Search Results for: Peter Stephen Williams

Interview with Peter S. Williams: Sceptics’s Guide to New Atheism

We interviewed Peter S. Williams, an EPS blogger and contributor to Philosophia Christi, about his just released book, A Sceptic’s Guide to Atheism (Paternostre, 2009). A talk by Peter about his new book can be downloaded by clicking here.

What is unique about your book compared to other critical treatments on the “new atheists”?

The new atheism is characterised by the propositions that belief in God is false and evil. The new atheists believe that at the core of even the most outwardly benign theism is an immoral commitment to flouting one’s intellectual responsibilities. That means that the new atheism presupposes both an account of rationality and an account of morality. What’s unique about my book is that I examine those accounts and turn the results of this analysis against the new atheism. By systematically reviewing their major arguments, I show how the new atheism is grounded in incoherent accounts of knowledge and morality.

It’s not just that the new atheists are wrong to define ‘faith’ as ‘belief without evidence’ or ‘belief against the evidence’. It’s that their positive account of what it means to live up to one’s intellectual responsibilities is self-contradictory. I counter with an epistemology that isn’t self-contradictory, which frowns upon both ‘blind faith’ and belief despite overwhelming counter evidence, but which opens up the possibility of a faith in God that’s compatible with living up to one’s genuine intellectual responsibilities.

Then again, the new atheists put a lot of emphasis on arguments against belief in God, as opposed to arguments against the existence of God, and these arguments all have a moral dimension. For example, the argument that faith means being committed to ignoring one’s intellectual responsibilities presupposes that we have an objective moral responsibility to reason in a certain way. However, for the new atheists to invoke objective moral responsibilities is self-contradictory, since the naturalistic worldview of the new atheism excludes the reality of any objective moral values. For example, Dawkins says both that there are no normative facts, no good, no evil, and that faith is an evil that leads people to do evil things. These claims form an in consistent set.

Of all the different new atheist voices that are out there, who do you find to be the most compelling in their case against the existence of God?

Dawkins makes the most compelling case against the truth of belief in God; but that’s partly because, despite being such a poor logician, he is a good rhetoritician, and partly because the other new atheists are even worse on this issue! The God Delusion was the first new atheist book I read, and I thought at the time that it was a low point for atheistic apologetics. Dawkins clearly doesn’t even understand the theistic arguments he critiques, and his book is consequently full of embarrassing errors. When it comes to his ‘central’ argument against theism, it turns out to be an exercise begging the question. Dawkins’ engagement with natural theology is a litany of formal and informal logical fallacies; but he’s a zoologist and not a philosopher. I expected more from new atheists who are philosophers, and I was disappointed to discover that Dawkins is actually the high water mark for new atheist engagement with the question of God’s existence!

The new atheists spend very little time arguing against the existence of God, or trying to counter the arguments for God’s existence. Dawkins’ is the most sustained effort on offer. Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is crucially predicated upon the non-existence of God, but he only spends eleven paragraphs (from pages 240-245) on this issue! Like his compatriots, Dennett skims over straw-man presentations of a small sub-set of theistic arguments which he dismisses using long discredited counter-arguments.

Anyone who didn’t know better and was inclined to trust what the new atheist’s say would come away from their books with the false impression that the cosmological argument depends upon the premise that ‘everything has a cause’ (thus leading to the question ‘Who made God?’), and that the moral argument claims that people can’t discern or behave in accordance with the good unless they believe in God (or in the Bible as the inspired word of God). As far as I’m concerned, that’s an academic scandal.

What are some of the sociological, cultural-historical or philosophical factors that have empowered the new atheism to emerge now compared to, say, fifty years ago?

I think the explanation is multi-factorial. The terrorist attacks of September 2001 clearly put the issue of religiously motivated violence smack in the centre of Western public consciousness; but I don’t think we can simply point the finger at the actions of a certain type of Muslim and say that the new atheism is a secular reaction to their actions. For one thing, Christians shouldn’t let themselves off the hook here. Many atheists have legitimate cause to feel themselves an oppressed minority. In 2006 researchers at the University of Minnesota identified atheists as America’s most distrusted minority, and the American Sociological Review reported that it is generally thought socially acceptable in America to say that you are intolerant of atheists. I think that the Church must ask itself if it is ‘speaking the truth’ to atheists ‘in love’, or in fear and hate? Perhaps we’ve had a hand in creating a stick with which to beat out own backs.

Another factor is the way in which the new atheism offers an apparently meaningful and purposeful existence to its converts. Materialism is the metaphysics of nihilism par excellence (cf. my book I Wish I Could Believe in Meaning: A Response to Nihilism) but the new atheism dresses itself up in fake robes of meaning and purpose, like the fairy-tale about the Emperor’s New Clothes. The fake meaning comes in the guise of moral outrage at the (generalised) behaviour of theists. The fake purpose comes in the form of an intellectual-cum-socio-political crusade against theistic belief and for a metaphysically naturalistic worldview. The ‘new atheism’ thus offers an apparently valuable meaning and purpose to people’s lives, a daring intellectual identity and a community of like-minded fellow-pilgrims. And the Emperor’s new tailor appeared to offer him the finest new robes…

Where do you think the discussion is going between new atheists and theists in the years to come?

I suspect that the new atheism has already had its cultural hay-day. It has now lost something of that ‘lure of the new’ to which our media-saturated culture is so in thralled, and it seems unlikely that Dawkins et al can sustain their movement’s momentum even if they manage to write a new set of books to keep their ideas in the public eye.

Nevertheless, significant numbers of people have been profoundly influenced by the new atheism. If there’s one thing to be said for the new atheism it is that antipathy towards Christianity is better than apathy; and the new atheism means Christians will meet more antipathy, albeit an intellectually under-resourced antipathy. Christians must ‘speak the truth in love’ to those influenced by the new atheism, engaging them with the real reasons for the hope that we have (rather than the straw-men boldly eviscerated by Dawkins et al), but also engaging with them on a personal level as friends whom Christ loves. If the new atheism can lead to more disagreements that are not disagreeable, then it may be a blessing in disguise!

Peter S. Williams is a philosophy and apologetics researcher, lecturer, and author with the UK based Damaris Trust.

Welcome Peter Williams

We welcome Peter S. Williams as our newest web contributor to the EPS website. Among many things, Peter is a Philosophia Christi contributor, a philosophy lecturer and a researcher particularly in the areas of intelligent design and natural theology work.

You can see more of Peter here at his author profile.

Also, we have posted three of his essays:

Web Project: Philosophical Discussions on Marriage and Family Topics

Instructions for Submitting a Paper Proposal

Purpose: For scholars interested in ethics, theology, and philosophy work on ‘marriage and family’ topics, we invite carefully-honed papers that advances discussion of any of the below areas of the Potential Paper Topics.

If you are interested, please contact our project coordinator and editor Michael Austin (info below). Michael is seeking to coordinate all potential contributors and their topics for this endeavor. When you pitch your possible contribution, please provide the following:

  • Your name, institution and contact info.
  • Title and description of your proposal (e.g., 100 words).
  • Reasons for how your contribution will help advance the purpose of this project.

We are looking for papers that a) argue for a perspective on a marriage and family topic, or b) casts a vision for more work to be done in a particular area or c) offers a literature review and assess what seems to be ‘under-developed’ work.

Length: 1,500 to 2,000 total words (minimum). You are welcome to work with the Project Editor on length issues.

Deadline: TBD by the project coordinator

Project Coordinator and Editor
Michael Austin
Eastern Kentucky University
Department of Philosophy

Priority will be given to those papers that offer a perspective on questions and problems that especially hone in on what have been ‘under-represented’ in this theme for Christian philosophers. Please seriously consider developing paper topics with the below examples in mind. We encourage papers that will be of interest not only to the ethics scholar but also to the epistemologist, metaphysician, theologian, etc.


Find this Project interesting? See these other EPS Web Projects

Potential Paper Topics

Developed by Michael Austin (Eastern Kentucky University) & Joe Gorra (Veritas Life Center).

Much has been addressed by Christian philosophers on questions related to bioethics, reproductive technologies, and so on. But some under-represented ‘marriage and family’ topics include the following:

Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Issues in Marriage and Family Studies: If philosophy and theology are understood as ‘second-order’ disciplines, how might they contribute to the work and contributions of ‘first-order’ disciplines like sociology, psychology, economics, cultural studies and their accounts of marriage and family? How might ideas and images shaped by these disciplines enable and clarify the work done by philosophers and theologians? We strongly encourage contributions from Christian philosophers who have understanding of the ‘meta-‘ issues involved with philosophy’s contribution to interdisciplinary discussions. We also encourage Christian non-philosophers to propose papers that are attentive to philosophical issues and concepts that converge with their discipline and areas of expertise. Co-authored proposals from philosophy and non-philosophy scholars are welcomed.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Ethics of religious upbringing of children: how to share, model, and influence our children for Christ in ways that honor God and respect them as well. Defenses of the morality of a Christian upbringing in the face of challenges at a popular level (e.g. Dawkins and “child abuse” claims) as well as at the scholarly level. How might philosophical accounts of ‘harm’ and ‘interest’ (of children, parents, etc) contribute to clarifying what is often a legally vague idea of ‘Acting in the best interests of the child.’

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Metaphysics of the Family: What is a family? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a family, on Christian theism? What biblical, theological, and philosophical data are relevant to this question? How important is genetics or biology to this definition? Or what value is there with respect to a biological connection of some sort between parent and child? Who is a father or a mother? How might a vocational account differ from strictly a biological account? How might we reflect upon ‘step-parenting,’ ‘foster-care parenting’ and ‘surrogate parenting’ in light of Christian theological accounts of adoption and hospitality of God? How might we think about the nature of parenting and family in light of the genetic modification of children and the technological possibilities of creating babies from three or more parents? And what implications do our answers to these questions have for the current cultural debates about same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting? From a political philosophy standpoint, what are strong, non-religious arguments for why a ‘secular state’ has an interest in protecting the family?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Metaphysical and Epistemological issues in Gender, Sexuality and Identity: What are necessary and sufficient conditions for defining ‘gender,’ ‘sexuality’ and ‘human identity’? On what basis are such distinctions drawn? In what sense and on what basis are these terms considered social constructions? ‘Self-identification’ of one’s experience as x, y, or z often populates studies in this area. Is this knowledge from a first-person perspective? Is it simply one’s construal? How might we understand the ‘authority’ of such claims relative to the authority of tradition, history, social institutions, etc.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Moral-Spiritual Formation of the Family: How does this occur, for both parents and children? What theological and philosophical resources can we bring to bear on this? How can parents be intentional about such formation for themselves and their children in the family? What does the Bible have to say that is relevant to such questions? And what do psychology, sociology, and other disciplines have to contribute to this? Is virtue formation and spiritual maturation in a family interconnected with being the roles of a mother and a father? What is the role of ecclesial communities in such matters of formation? Does the ‘Christian family’ exist primarily for the interests of the ‘household of faith’?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

  • For ‘ethics and family’ treatments, see Julie Rubio, Family Ethics: Practices for Christians (Georgetown University Press, 2010); Michael W. Austin, Wise Stewards: Philosophical Foundations of Christian Parenting (Kregel Academic, 2009).
  • For some work on the vocation of the family, see Gene Edward Veith and Mary J. Moerbe, Family Vocation (Crossway, 2012).
  • For recent article examples on philosophy and spiritual formation integration, see from the (Fall 2014) Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, Steve Porter, “A Call to Philosophy and Spiritual Formation” (248-257), and “Philosophy and Spiritual Formation: From Christian Faith to Christian Philosophy” (258-269); and also from JSFSC’s (Spring 2014), see Brian Brock, “Discipleship as Living with God, or Wayfinding and Scripture,” 22-34.

Non-Religious Arguments for Marriage and the Family: What are the opportunities and limitations for using ‘natural moral law arguments’ in public and pluralistic contexts? Are such arguments mostly useful for ‘consoling the faithful’? How are ‘secularists’ compelled by such arguments, if they are compelled at all? How might such arguments be retooled in light of changing plausibility structures in Western societies, which increasingly view Christian accounts of marriage and family to be contestable and not believable? How might sociological, psychological and economic reasons and evidences be more persuasive to most secularists than natural law arguments?

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Moral Vision of Flourishing ‘Families’ in a Pluralistic Society: Culturally speaking, the experience of marriage and family is no longer a homogenous kind of experience in Western societies. Increasingly, we have ‘pluralist’ accounts recognized by law, legitimized by cultural pressures, and encouraged by various social institutions.

Drawing from Christian Social Thought, how might Christians envision a society that attends to our differences, even contradictions, regarding marriage and family flourishing? Is such a society possible? What conditions or values should shape how we are bound together? How might Christians think societally about such issues like ‘gay adoption,’ government assistance for unwed mothers, illegal immigration and deportation of parents, youth incarceration and single-parent homes, etc? What society should be built by Christian thought and leadership influence given the particularities of our cultural moment? We encourage constructive responses that seek to minister to each person made in the image of God, and seeks to uphold the social order.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

‘Health,’ ‘Well-Being,’ and ‘Holiness’ of Marriage and Family: Innumerable scientific studies have been written about the health and happiness of individuals, their family and affects on society. ‘Health,’ though, is usually given a reductive account: a scientific or medical question about an organism. Similarly, ‘happiness studies’ usually assume a psychological account about someone’s mental outlook on life. Is there a thicker account of ‘health’ and ‘well-being’ that includes but is not reduced to the hard or soft sciences? Moreover, Christians have historically understood marriage and family as sacred or holy, set apart for the glory and purposes of God’s work in the world. Is there ‘health’ and ‘well-being’ entailed by that sacred, perhaps even ‘sacramental vision’ of marriage and family? How might we recapture a more holistic understanding of eudaimonia as a collective, relational phenomenon, in family, church and state.

Papers may wish to interact with this literature:

Please consider becoming a regular annual or monthly financial partner with the Evangelical Philosophical Society in order to expand its reach, support its members, and be a credible presence of Christ-shaped philosophical interests in the academy and into the wider culture!

Atheists Against Darwinism

Peter S. Williams
Assistant Professor in Communication and Worldviews
Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication
Kristiansand, Norway


Intelligent design theory claims that 1) empirical evidence warrants
2) a scientific design inference using 3) reliable design detection
criteria. Philosophia Christi published my paper “The
Design Inference from Specified Complexity Defended by Scholars Outside
the Intelligent Design Movement: A Critical Review
” (Philosophia
, Vol 9, Number 2), which defended the third of these claims
by reviewing the work atheists and theistic evolutionists. This paper
defends the second of these claims, likewise by reviewing work by agnostics
and atheists.

“A log is a seeming solid object, but a wedge can eventually
split it by penetrating a crack and gradually widening the split. In
this case the ideology of scientific materialism is the apparently solid
log. The widening crack is the important but seldom-recognized difference
between the facts revealed by scientific investigation and the materialist
philosophy that dominates the scientific culture.” � Phillip E. Johnson

It was one of the “Top Ten Darwin and Design News Stories for 2008”[2]
according to Access Research Network[3],
a leading Intelligent Design (ID) website:

Darwin v. Design public debates took an interesting
turn in 2008 as atheists and agnostics took up the torch for ID and
Christians went to bat for Darwin. This surprising role reversal was
most evident at a November 7 debate in Texas where agnostic Dr. David
Berlinski, a well-know skeptic of Darwinism, and Dr. Bradley Monton,
an atheist philosopher of physics both defended intelligent design while
theistic evolutionist Dr. Denis Alexander, a biochemist and editor of
Science & Christian Belief, and well-known atheist and physicist
Dr. Lawrence Krauss defended evolution . . . Another example of this
trend was . . . philosopher and sociologist Steve Fuller’s defense of
ID in his newest book Dissent over Descent and the ensuing public
debate about the book in the online pages of the New Humanist.
Meanwhile atheist New York University Law professor Thomas Nagel authors
an article defending the constitutionality of teaching ID.[4]

These events followed atheist Jerry Fodor’s article “Why Pigs Don’t
Have Wings”[5],
critiquing evolutionary psychology and the adaptationalism it builds
upon; and Steve Fuller’s Science vs Religion? Intelligent
Design and the Problem of Evolution
(Polity, 2007), which defended
the “heuristic value”[6]
of ID. And the trend has continued, with A.N. Wilson (an Oxford educated
writer who returned to Christian faith in 2009 after two decades of
revealing his doubts about evolution in response to a question posed
in the New Statesman about whether one can ‘love God and agree
with Darwin’:

I think you can love God and agree with the author of The Voyage
of the Beagle
, the Earth Worm, and most of the Origin
of Species
. The Descent of Man, with its talk of savages,
its belief that black people are more primitive than white people, and
much nonsense besides, is an offence to the intelligence – and is obviously
incompatible with Christianity. I think the jury is out about whether
the theory of Natural selection, as defined by neo-Darwinians is true,
and whether serious scientific doubts, as expressed in a new book
Why Us by James Le Fanu, deserve to be taken seriously. For
example, does the discovery of the complex structure of DNA and the
growth in knowledge in genetics require a rethink of Darwinian ‘gradualism’.
But these are scientific rather than religious questions.[8]

In Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves
(Harper Press, 2009) James Le Fanu[9],
an apparently agnostic physician and writer[10],

The Ascent of Man from knuckle-walking chimp to upright human seems
. . .  almost self-evident, yet it conceals events that are without
precedent in the whole  of biology . . . This discrepancy between
the beguiling simplicities of evolutionary theory and the profundity
of the biological phenomena it seems to  explain is very striking
. . . Here the greatest virtue of Darwin’s proposed  mechanism,
its simplicity, might seem its greatest drawback � that it is far
too  simple
to begin to account for the complexities of life
. . . There is . . . more than  enough evidence already to suspect
that Darwin was less right than is commonly  perceived.[11]

And there’s more to come, as Bradley Monton’s Seeking God in
Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design
is published by
Broadview Press in July 2009.[12]

The above jointly signal a breakthrough for Phillip E. Johnson’s
“wedge” strategy for legitimising scientific consideration of the design
hypothesis. I will analyse this breakthrough in two phases. Phase one
is the endorsement by agnostics and atheists of Johnson’s philosophy
of science
. Phase two (which builds upon and signifies the success
of phase one) concerns the extent to which Michael J. Behe’s argument
in The Edge of Evolution: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism
(Free Press, 2007) is endorsed by Thomas Nagel’s essay. I will argue
that Nagel’s reticence about ID results from philosophical inconsistency.

Phase One: The Wedge Strategy

“My colleges and I want to separate the real science from the
materialist philosophy.” � Phillip E. Johnson

Phillip E. Johnson, the so-called “god-father” of the ID movement[14],

In a lifetime of studying and participating in
controversies, I have learned that the best way to approach a problem
of any kind is usually not to talk or even think very much about the
ultimate answer until I have made sure I am asking all the right questions
in the right order.[15]

This wisdom underlies Johnson’s “wedge strategy” for shaping the
evolution debate:

The most important crack in the modernist log
is the difference between two distinct definitions of science. On the
one hand, modernists say that science is impartial fact-finding, the
objective and unprejudiced weighing of evidence . . . On the other hand,
modernists also identify science with naturalistic philosophy. In that
case science is committed to finding and endorsing naturalistic explanations
for every phenomenon � regardless of the facts. This kind of
science is not free of prejudice. On the contrary, it is defined
by a prejudice. The prejudice is that all phenomena can ultimately be
explained in terms of purely natural causes, which is to say unintelligent

Johnson’s strategy is a success, not because ID has yet succeeded
in replacing Darwinism as the majority scientific paradigm, but
because atheistic and agnostic scholars now openly champion Johnson’s
philosophical paradigm. Monton’s defence of the scientific status
of ID exemplifies this seismic shift:

rejection of the supernatural should not be a part of scientific
methodology . . .  scientists should be free to pursue hypotheses
as they see fit, without being  constrained by a particular philosophical
account of what science is . . . If science  really is permanently
committed to methodological naturalism, 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 . . . science is better off without being  shackled
by methodological naturalism . . . ID should not be dismissed on the
grounds that it is unscientific�[17]

Fuller gives Johnson credit for this shift:

Johnson hammered home the historically correct
observation that naturalism is, strictly speaking, a metaphysical position
with which many scientists and the scientific establishment have identified,
especially since the ascendancy of Darwinism, but which is not necessary
for an adequate � or perhaps even fruitful � account of the means and
ends of scientific inquiry . . . Johnson, has stressed � in a way that
his fellow lawyer Francis Bacon would have appreciated � the need for
standards for appraising the scientific status of knowledge claims that
are not inherently biased against a newcomer.[18]

In Darwin on Trail (IVP, 1991) Johnson drove a “wedge” between
metaphysical deduction and scientific inference: “I assume” wrote Johnson,
“that the creation-scientists are biased by their pre-commitment to
Biblical fundamentalism�”[19]
There was nothing revolutionary in this analysis. But Johnson applied
a parallel analysis to Darwinism: “The question I want to investigate
is whether Darwinism is based upon a fair assessment of the scientific
evidence, or whether it is another kind of fundamentalism.”[20]
He pointed out that defining science as “reliance upon naturalistic
(a definition entailed by metaphysical naturalism, but accepted as a
methodological restraint upon science by many non-naturalists), turns
Darwinism into a foregone conclusion:

If science is to have any explanation for biological
complexity at all it has to make do with what if left when the unacceptable
has been excluded. Natural selection is the best of the remaining alternatives,
probably the only alternative. In this situation some may decide that
Darwinism simply must be true.[22]

Johnson’s claims were nuanced: “I do not think that many scientists
would be comfortable accepting Darwinism solely as a philosophical principle,
without seeking to find at least some empirical evidence that it is
(Nor are creationists comfortable accepting their model of creation
solely as a theological dogma.[24])
But as Johnson observed: “there is an important difference between going
to the empirical evidence to test a doubtful theory against some plausible
alternative, and going to the evidence to look for confirmation of the
only theory that one is willing to tolerate.”[25]

For Johnson, belief in the doctrine of creation “does not
imply opposition to evolution”[26]
as a model of creation, since “a Creator might well have employed
such a gradual process as a means to creation. ‘Evolution’ contradicts
‘creation’ only when it is explicitly or tacitly defined as fully
naturalistic evolution
Hence Johnson advocates philosophical neutrality concerning evolution:

I am a philosophical theist and a Christian. I
believe that a God exists who could create out of nothing if he wanted
to do so, but who might have chosen to work through a natural evolutionary
process instead. I am not a defender of creation-science, and am in
fact not concerned . . . with addressing any conflicts between the Biblical
accounts and the scientific evidence.[28]

As Johnson said in the second edition of Darwin on Trail:

I am not. . . taking sides in a Bible-science
conflict. I am interested in what unbiased scientific investigation
has to tell us about the history of life . . . This project does not
imply opposition to “evolution” in all the senses of that highly manipulable
term . . . Darwinists tell us that . . . natural mechanisms like mutation
and selection were adequate to perform the job of creation. I want to
know whether that claim is true, not just whether it is the best naturalistic
speculation available. . .[29]

According to Johnson:

scientific evidence, when evaluated without an overwhelming bias
toward  materialism, does not support the Darwinian creation story
. . . the evidence  actually supports the supposedly discredited
view that an intelligent  designer outside of nature had to be
involved in biological creation.[30]

However, these are secondary and tertiary issues for Johnson, whereas
getting our philosophy of science right is primary in developing
a fruitful debate on origins

Johnson navigated a trail similar to that blazed by Alvin Plantinga’s
articles “When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible”[31]
and “Evolution, Neutrality, and Antecedent Probability: a Reply to Van
Till and McMullen”[32],
in which he argued:

a Christian . . . believes that God has created
and sustains the world. Starting from this position . . . we recognize
that there are many ways in which God could have created the living
things he has in fact created; how, in fact, did he do it? . . . Did
it all happen just by way of the working of the laws of physics, or
was there further divine activity (activity not restricted to the upholding
of matter in existence and concurring in the causal transactions expressing
its nature)? That’s the question, and the way to try to answer it .
. . is to ask two others: first what is the antecedent probability of
his doing it the one way rather than the other? And second what does
the evidence at our disposal suggest? . . . Starting from the belief
in God, we [i.e. Christians] must look at the evidence and consider
the probabilities as best we can.

Johnson advanced the debate by arguing that it isn’t just those with
a belief in God who should privilege scientific evidence over philosophical
prejudice when trying to explain biological complexity: Anyone willing
to acknowledge a distinction between science and materialism should
do the same

Validating the Wedge

It’s easy to find scientists whose thinking validates Johnson’s warning
about the “prejudice that all phenomena can ultimately be explained
in terms [of] unintelligent causes” leading to “endorsing naturalistic
explanations for phenomenon – regardless of the facts.”

  Geneticist Richard Lewontin admits:

It is not that the methods . . . of science somehow
compel us to accept a material explanation of the . . . world, but,
on the contrary, that we are forced by our . . . adherence to material
causes to create . . . a set of concepts that produce material explanations,
no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying. . .[34]

“Moreover”, says Lewontin, “that materialism is absolute, for
we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door
. . .”[35]
Fodor affirms: “Getting minds in general, and God’s mind in particular,
out of biological explanations is a main goal of the adaptationist programme.
I am, myself, all in favour of that�”[36]

Nagel observes:

The theory [of evolution] does not claim to explain the origin of
life, which  remains a complete scientific mystery at this point.
Opponents of ID, however, normally assume that that too must have a
purely chemical explanation.[37]

Assume is the right word. Biologist Franklin Harold asserts:
“Life arose here on earth from inanimate matter, by some kind of evolutionary
But he admits: “This is not a statement of demonstrable fact, but an
Indeed, it’s an assumption maintained in the teeth of contrary evidence.[40]
Paul Davies calculates the odds against producing just the proteins
necessary for a minimally complex life-form are “something like 1040,000
to one.”[41]
In the 50th Anniversary edition of New Scientist,
Davies confirmed: “One of the great outstanding mysteries is the origin
of life,” and admitted that “nobody has a clue”[42]
how it happened. Gregg Easterbrook asks:

What creates life out of the inanimate compounds
that make up living things? No one knows. How were the first organisms
assembled? Nature hasn’t given us the slightest hint. If anything, the
mystery has deepened over time . . . if life began unaided under primordial
conditions in a natural system containing zero knowledge, then it should
be possible – it should be easy – to create life in a laboratory
today. But . . . no one has come close . . . Did God or some other higher
being create life? . . .Until such time as a wholly natural origin of
life is found, these questions have power.[43]

Atheist Fred Hoyle (writing with mathematician
Chandra Wickramasinghe) concluded that design is the only reasonable

the enormous information content of even the simplest
living systems . . . cannot in our view be generated by what are often
called “natural” processes . . . There is no way in which we can expect
to avoid the need for information, no way in which we can simply get
by with a bigger and better organic soup, as we ourselves hoped might
be possible . . . The correct position we think is . . . an intelligence,
which designed the biochemicals and gave rise to the origin of carbonaceous
life . . . This is tantamount to arguing that carbonaceous life was
invented by noncarbonaceous intelligence. . .[44]

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe didn’t identify their
“non-carbonaceous intelligence”, but noted:

the scientific facts throw Darwin out, but leave
William Paley, a figure of fun to the scientific world for more than
a century, still in the tournament with a chance of being the ultimate
winner . . . Indeed, such a theory is so obvious that one wonders why
it is not widely accepted as being self-evident. The reasons are psychological
rather than scientific.[45]

As Michael Ruse warns: “A great deal of the underpinning of discussions
on the origin of life have been more philosophical than anything based
in brute experience.”[46]
In other words, Johnson was right.

Ruse on “Nonliteralist Antievolution”

As we’ve seen, it’s easy to find Darwinists whose thinking comports
with Johnson’s analysis of the theory’s philosophical foundations. However,
in a speech delivered to the American Association for the Advancement
of Science in 1993, Michael Ruse explicitly agreed with Johnson:

Johnson [is] arguing [that] the kind of position
of a person like myself, an evolutionist, is metaphysically based at
some level, just as much as the kind of position of . . . some creationist
. . . I must confess . . . I’ve been coming to this kind of position
myself� I was inclined to say . . . creationism is not science and evolution
is, and that’s the end of it . . . Now . . . I’m inclined to think .
. . we should recognize� that the science side has certain metaphysical
assumptions built into doing science� Certainly, I think that philosophers
like myself have been much more sensitized to these things� by trends�
in the philosophy of science . . . So . . . however we’re going to deal
with creationism, or new creationism [i.e. Intelligent Design Theory]
. . . we should also look at evolution and science, in particular, biology,
generally philosophically I think a lot more critically . . . And
it seems to me very clear that at some very basic level, evolution as
a scientific theory makes a commitment to a kind of naturalism, namely,
that at some level one is going to exclude miracles and these sorts
of things, come what may
. . . I think . . . that evolutionary theory
. . . certainly seems to be the most reasonable position, once one
has taken a naturalistic position
. So I’m not coming here and saying,
give up evolution, or anything like that. But I am coming here and saying,
I think that philosophically that one should be sensitive to what I
think history shows, namely, that . . . evolution, akin to religion,
involves making certain a priori or metaphysical assumptions,
which at some level cannot be proven empirically . . . And I think that
the way to deal with creationism, but the way to deal with evolution
also, is not to deny these facts, but to recognize them, and to see
where we can go, as we move on from there.[47]

Ruse still assumed that science should be defined so it “excludes
miracles and these sorts of things.” But while the scientific status
of ID is an important question, it isn’t an essential question. As Nagel
comments: “a purely semantic classification of a hypothesis or its denial
as belonging or not to science is of limited interest to someone who
wants to know whether the hypothesis is true or false.”[48]
The significant thing about Ruse’s lecture was that he explicitly
conceded Johnson’s point
about “metaphysical assumptions” which
“cannot be proven empirically” playing a significant role in one’s assessment
evolutionary theory. Nevertheless, once this admission is made,
it’s hard not to reject “methodological naturalism”, for as Monton argues:
“a consequence of [methodological naturalism] is that the aim of science
is not truth.”[49]
He points out that Judge Jones (who presided over the Dover trial[50]):

seems aware of the fact that his demarcation criteria entail that
the aim of science is not truth. He writes that “while ID arguments
may be true, a proposition on  which the Court takes no position,
ID is not science” . . . But if science is not a  pursuit of truth,
science has the potential to be marginalized as an irrelevant social

Ruse implicitly concedes that methodological naturalism (MN) carries
this liability:

Your invoking God. And that’s just not acceptable
in science . . . I’m not denying the possibility of non-natural causes.
My question, rather, is whether in doing science it is necessary to
invoke non-natural causes? Or, if we agree by definition that science
cannot invoke non-natural causes, whether it is necessary, therefore,
to accept that there are questions about the world that science cannot
answer because they demand non-natural answers?[52]

Ruses’ intransigence notwithstanding: “The inadequacy of methodological
naturalism [is now] widely acknowledged by philosophers of science,
even among those who are atheists. . .”[53]
As Jeffrey Koperski affirms:

If the best explanation for some new phenomenon
is design, even supernatural design, it would still count as a scientific
explanation. It borders on academic incompetence to pretend that science
has strict boundaries and then gerrymander those boundaries to keep
out the riffraff. Philosophers of science in particular should know

Monton argues that there is no consensus among philosophers or scientists
in favor of MN:

The way to refute intelligent design is not by
declaring it unscientific, but by showing that the empirical evidence
for design is not there. . . it is a mistake to try to argue against
ID by declaring it unscientific. . . If our goal is to believe truth
and avoid falsehood, and if we are rational people who take into account
evidence in deciding what to believe, then we need to focus on the question
of what evidence there is for and against ID.[55]

Fuller thinks there’s a consensus against MN among philosophers
of science:

neo-Darwinists are inclined to slide from observing (correctly) that
[ID]  challenges the metaphysical naturalism of contemporary biology
to inferring  (incorrectly) that [ID] challenges the established
methods of scientific  inquiry. . . However, [ID] does not challenge
science, only the artificially  restricted conceptual horizons
within which science is practiced under the neo-  Darwinist regime
. . . [ID’s] attempt to embrace a philosophy of science that  extends
beyond naturalism does not reflect the eccentricity of a reactionary
scientific movement. On the contrary, it probably represents the mainstream
opinion of philosophers themselves.[56]

He condemns MN as:

a neologism designed to capture two things at
once that the history of the scientific method has tended to keep separate
. . . the contexts of discovery and justification. This separation explains
the studied neutrality that philosophers of the scientific method have
tended to adopt toward “metaphysics,” including both naturalism
and supernaturalism. . . Not surprisingly, the scientific community’s
recent legitimatory appeals to methodological naturalism have appeared
to sit uncomfortably even with philosophers who oppose [ID]�[57]

Richard Dawkins likewise rejects MN and defends the scientific status
of ID:

God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific
fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice
. . . The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally
a scientific question, even if it is not in practice � or not yet �
a decided one.[58]

Ruse and Johnson agree that evolution is “the most reasonable position,
once one has taken a naturalistic position.”[59]
But what if one does not take a naturalistic position (methodological
or metaphysical)? Approaching the question of origins without a “commitment
to a kind of naturalism” doesn’t entail rejecting evolution as the best
available scientific account of biology. It does mean following the
scientific evidence

Nagel on the Scientific Status of ID

Nagel believes “that the response of evolutionists to creation science
and intelligent design should not be to rule them out as ‘not science.'”[60]
He argues that Darwinism and ID are methodologically equivalent: “Either
both of them are science or neither of them is.”[61]:

The denier that ID is science faces the following dilemma. Either
he admits that  the intervention of such a designer is possible,
or he does not. If he does not, he  must explain why that belief
is more scientific than the belief that a designer is  possible.
If on the other hand he believes that a designer is possible, then he
can  argue that the evidence is overwhelmingly against the actions
of such a designer,  but he cannot say that someone who offers
evidence on the other side is doing  something of a fundamentally
different kind . . . It is difficult to avoid the  conclusion that
the two sides are in symmetrical positions. If one scientist is a
theist and another an atheist, this is either a scientific or a nonscientific
disagreement between them. If it is scientific . . . then their disagreement
is  scientific all the way down. If it is not a scientific disagreement,
and if this  difference in their nonscientific beliefs about the
antecedent possibilities affects  their rational interpretation
of the same empirical evidence, I do not see how we  can say that
one is engaged in science and the other is not. Either both conclusions
are rendered nonscientific by the influence of their nonscientific assumptions,
or  both are scientific in spite of  those assumptions. In
the latter case, they have a  scientific disagreement that cannot
be settled by scientific reasoning alone. . .[62]

Nagel complains that the “ID isn’t science” objection amounts to
an unfair and implausible rigging of the ground-rules of science:

The contention seems to be that, although science can demonstrate
the falsehood  of the design hypothesis, no evidence against that
demonstration can be regarded  as scientific support for the hypothesis.
Only the falsehood, and not the truth, of  ID can count as a scientific
claim. Something about the nature of the conclusion,  that it involves
the purposes of a supernatural being, rules it out as science.[63]

As I will argue, the claim that ID “involves the purposes of a supernatural
being” is misleading. This aside, Nagel’s point about double standards
is a good one:

From the beginning it has been commonplace to present the theory
of evolution  by random mutation and natural selection as an alternative
to intentional design as  an explanation of the functional organization
of living organisms. The evidence  for the theory is supposed to
be evidence for the absence of purpose in the  causation of the
development of life-forms on this planet. It is not just the theory
that life evolved over billions of years, and that all species are descended
from a  common ancestor. Its defining element is the claim that
all this happened as the  result of the appearance of random and
purposeless mutations in the genetic  material followed by natural
selection due to the resulting heritable variations in  reproductive
fitness. It displaces design by proposing an alternative. No one
suggests that the theory is not science, even though the historical
process it  describes cannot be directly observed, but must be
inferred from currently available data. It is therefore puzzling that
the denial of this inference, i.e., the claim that the evidence offered
for the theory does not support the kind of  explanation it proposes,
and that the purposive alternative has not been displaced, should be
dismissed as not science.[64]

Nagel argues that the supposed problem with the design hypothesis:

cannot be just that the idea of a designer is too vague, and that
nothing is being  said about how he works. When Darwin proposed
the theory of natural selection,  neither he nor anyone else had
any idea of how heredity worked, or what could  cause a mutation
that was observable in the phenotype and was heritable. The  proposal
was simply that something purposeless was going on that had these
effects, permitting natural selection to operate. This is no less vague
than the  hypothesis that the mutations available for selection
are influenced by the actions  of a designer. So it must be the
element of purpose that is the real offender.[65]

However, if the “purpose” in question can be “vague” without this
vagueness being problematical, then it must be un-problematical if this
vagueness extends to a refusal to specify the “purpose” in question
as divine (as Nagel assumes). It’s upon the issue of “purpose”
or “design” per se that we should focus, for as Nagel observes:

We do not have much scientific understanding of the creative process
even when the creator is human; perhaps such creativity too is beyond
the reach of science.  Leaving that aside: the idea of a divine
creator or designer is clearly the idea of a  being whose acts
and decisions are not explainable by natural law. There is no
divine scientific psychology.[66]

Let’s not “leave that aside”. Nagel raises an issue that re-enforces
the probity of focusing upon “design” as an explanation, rather than
upon the secondary question of divine design. Fuller comments
upon the “heuristic value” of design detection criteria and design explanations,
like those used by ID, which are “accepted in settings less fraught
with theological controversy”; noting that: “The most extreme version
of this application appears in NASA’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,
or SETI, project�”[67]
The observation that personal agency and internal states of agents (human
and non-human) are routinely cited as scientific explanations holds
true despite the fact that, as Nagel notes, the creativity routinely
referenced therein might itself turn out to be beyond the reach of a
naturalistically defined science.[68]
That is, no one thinks that if some form of mind-body dualism is true,
then forensic science isn’t a science after all because it explains
with reference to something that doesn’t fit within a naturalistic worldview!
One needn’t have a settled view upon the mind-body problem to justifiably
count forensic science as a science. Likewise, one needn’t assume that
design explanations per se are necessarily naturalistic in order
to within one’s rights in counting such explanations as scientific:

The fact that there could be no scientific theory of the internal
operation of the  divine mind is consistent with its being in large
part a scientific question  whether divine intervention provides
a more likely explanation of the  empirical data than an explanation
in terms of physical law alone. To ask  whether there are limits
to what can credibly be explained by a given type of  scientific
theory, or any theory relying only on universal physical laws, is
itself a  scientific question. An answer to the question that asserts
such limits on the basis  of empirical evidence is still a scientific
claim, even if it also proposes an  alternative cause whose internal
operation is not governed by the kind of natural  law that science
can investigate. I suspect that the assumption that science can
never provide evidence for the occurrence of something that cannot be
scientifically explained is the principal reason for the belief that
ID cannot be  science; but so far as I can see, that assumption
is without merit.[69]

Going Soft on Methodological Naturalism

One can distinguish between hard and soft methodological
Hard methodological naturalism (HMN) excludes intelligent causation
from science – exiling many fields of study currently considered scientific
(e.g. forensic science, SETI) and ceding epistemological competency
to philosophy. Soft methodological naturalism (SMN) excludes explicitly
supernatural causation
from science, but permits explanations framed
in terms of intelligence. Those who (like Fodor) believe that
explanations framed in terms of intelligence are ultimately reducible
to naturalistic metaphysics, those who (like Nagel) take an anti-reductionistic
position, and those who are agnostic on this question, can all accept
SMN. This is a pragmatic reason for practicing at least some
science within SMN: Accepting SMN allows science to function as a “big
tent” for people of all worldviews. Rather than theists doing “theistic
science” a la Plantinga, and atheists doing “naturalistic science”
(HMN definition) a la Ruse, we can all co-operate in science
(SMN definition).

SMN doesn’t entail adopting or rejecting ID. SMN permits ID to count
as science just as effectively as the outright rejection of “methodological
naturalism” advocated by Monton, Nagel, Fuller et al. SMN
the epistemological competency of science (like HMN), but
without subverting it (unlike HMN). Whether an intelligent cause
is supernatural or not, it is still an intelligent cause, and
true to note it as such within scientific theory making.

ID isn’t Theistic Science

According to Nagel:

the campaign of the scientific establishment to rule out intelligent
design as  beyond discussion because it is not science results
in the avoidance of significant  questions about the relation between
evolutionary theory and religious belief,  questions that must
be faced in order to understand the theory and evaluate the  scientific
evidence for it.[71]

Nagel reckons: “evolutionary theory as a complete explanation of
the development of life is more plausible to someone who does not believe
in God than to someone who does.”[72]
In more general terms he explains: “the empirical evidence may suggest
different conclusions depending on what religious belief one starts
with. . . the evidence does not by itself settle which of those beliefs
is correct. . .”[73]

Nevertheless, Nagel acknowledge that “ID is very different from creation
and that “there is a distinction between the arguments for intelligent
design in biology and the traditional argument from design for the existence
of God.”[75]
Indeed, ID simply claims that:

intelligent agency, as an aspect of scientific
theory making, has more explanatory power in accounting for the specified,
and sometimes irreducible complexity of some physical systems, including
biological entities, and/or the existence of the universe as a whole,
than the blind forces of . . . matter.[76]

As such, ID is compatible with “all those teleological views that
allow for the empirical detection of real design.”[77]
Such views include, but aren’t limited to, theism. As Behe comments:

my argument is limited to design itself; I strongly
emphasize that it is not an argument for the existence of a benevolent
God . . . I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that
philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific
argument for design in biology does not reach that far. . .[78]

Nagel uncharitably ignores Monton’s recommendation “that. . . we
simply take proponents of ID at their word that the doctrine they are
endorsing. . . is not inherently theistic.”[79]
In discussing “the relation between evolutionary theory and the despised
Nagel asserts:

For legal reasons that alternative is called intelligent
design, with no implication that the designer is God, but I shall assume
that we are talking about some form of divine purpose or divine intervention.
Nevertheless, there is a distinction between the arguments for intelligent
design in biology and the traditional argument from design for the existence
of God. ID . . . is best interpreted not as an argument for the existence
of God, but as a claim about what it is reasonable to believe about
biological evolution if one independently holds a belief in God that
is consistent both with the empirical facts about nature that have been
established by observation, and with the acceptance  of general
standards of scientific evidence. For legal reasons it is not presented
that way by its defenders. . .[81]

Nagel interprets ID as an exercise in what Plantinga calls “theistic
(albeit one that has tendentiously branded itself for legal reasons[83]).
However, as Stephen C. Meyer explains, this is incorrect:

According to a spate of recent media reports .
. . intelligent design is just biblical creationism repackaged by religious
fundamentalists in order to circumvent a 1987 United States Supreme
Court prohibition against teaching creationism in the U.S. public schools
. . . newspapers, magazines and broadcast outlets in the United States
and around the world have repeated this trope. But is it accurate? As
one of the architects of the theory of intelligent design . . . I know
that it isn’t. The modern theory of intelligent design was . . . first
proposed in the late 1970s and early 1980s by a group of scientists,
Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley and Roger Olson, who were trying to
account for an enduring mystery of modern biology: the origin of the
digital information en-coded along the spine of the DNA molecule. Thaxton
and his colleagues came to the conclusion that the information-bearing
properties of DNA provided strong evidence of a prior but unspecified
designing intelligence. They wrote a book proposing this idea in 1984
. . . Contemporary scientific interest in the design hypothesis not
only predates the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against creationism, but
the . . . theory of intelligent design, unlike creationism . . . is
an inference from empirical evidence, not a deduction from religious

There is an in-principle reason why ID cannot be conflated with natural
Behe explains:

a raft of important distinctions intervene between
a conclusion of design and identification of a designer . . . if one
wishes to be academically rigorous, one can’t leap directly from design
to a transcendent God. To reach a transcendent God, other, nonscientific
arguments have to be made. . .[86]

Monton (following Dembski[87])
argues that there can be situations in which “it is possible to get
scientific evidence for the existence of God.”[88]
However, unlike Monton’s hypothetical example, the data-set ID draws
upon doesn’t include propositional communication, and thus cannot constitute
direct evidence for the existence of God. There is a distinction between
detecting design and revelation.[89]

Atheist Sam Harris acknowledges that there is a logical gap between
the conclusion of intelligent design and the conclusion that the designer
is God: “Even if we accepted that our universe simply had to be designed
by a designer, this would not suggest that this designer is the biblical
God. . .”[90]
This gap can be illustrated by thinking about crop-circles. Crop-circles
are obviously designed. Some believe the source of crop-circle design
is extra-terrestrial. Yet, no matter how skeptical we are about aliens,
it would be irrational to argue that “Since aliens don’t exist, crop-circles
aren’t the product of design”! Likewise, however skeptical we are about
the existence of God, it would be irrational to argue that since God
doesn’t exist, nothing in nature is the product of design. As Monton

The intelligent cause could be God, but it need
not be. It may be that living things on Earth were created by a highly
intelligent alien civilization . . . It may be that the whole universe
we experience is really just a computer simulation being run by highly
intelligent non-supernatural beings, as Nick Bostrom (2003) argues is
plausible. It takes just a bit of creativity to come up with other possibilities.
. .[91]

God is a sufficient but not necessary cause of design in nature.
Arguments for design needn’t be viewed as arguments for God – at least,
not without considerations from outside ID being brought to bear: “intelligent
design theory by itself makes no claims about the nature of the designer,
and scientists currently working within an intelligent design framework
include Protestants, Catholics, Jews, agnostics, and others.”[92]
Dembski reports: “I’ve seen intelligent design embraced by Jews, Muslims,
Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics and even atheists.”[93]
The inference to design is prior to inferences to any particular designer,
and stands or falls on its own merits. Recognizing distinctions between
intelligent, supernatural and divine design is
not a rhetorical move on the part of ID theorists. As Behe observes:
“diligence in making proper distinctions should not be impugned as craftiness.”[94]
Monton acknowledges: “ID is not inherently supernatural, and hence ID
can count as science even if the restriction to naturalism is part of
the scientific methodology.”[95]

Discarding Nagel’s conspiracy theory, we can agree that:

ID. . . requires only that design be admitted as a possibility .
. . it would be  difficult to argue that the admission of that
possibility is inconsistent with the  standards of scientific rationality.
Further, if it is admitted as a possibility, it  would be difficult
to argue that the presently available empirical evidence rules it
out decisively. . . The conceivability of the design alternative is
part of the  background for understanding evolutionary theory.
To make the assumption of its  falsehood a condition of scientific
rationality seems almost incoherent.[96]

Still, given Nagel’s explicitly theistic interpretation of
ID, it’s noteworthy that he not only defends its scientific status (if
ID is science even if it includes reference to God, it can hardly fail
to be science when it doesn’t do so), but thinks it correctly captures
the epistemic relationship between the hypotheses of theism and evolution.

Phase Two: A Naturalist on The Edge of Evolution

“I recognize that there is a significant debate amongst evolutionists
as to how far natural selection goes.” � Michael Ruse

One of the most significant ID publications of recent years is
The Edge of Evolution
: The Search for the Limits of Darwinism,
(Free Press, 2007) by Michael J. Behe. In “Public Education and Intelligent
Design”, Thomas Nagel proclaims a significant degree of agreement with
Behe’s argument, whilst professing agnosticism concerning Behe’s conclusion
of design.

Nagel states: “My own situation is that of an atheist who, in spite
of being an avid consumer of popular science, has for a long time been
skeptical of the claims of traditional evolutionary theory to be the
whole story about the history of life.”[98]
In Nagel’s view:

Sophisticated members of the contemporary culture have been so thoroughly
indoctrinated that they easily lose sight of the fact that evolutionary
reductionism  defies common sense. A theory that defies common
sense can be true, but doubts about its truth should be suppressed only
in the face of exceptionally strong  evidence.[99]

Thus Nagel apparently agrees with Behe that the burden of proof is
on those who doubt design:

a person who conjectured that the statues on Easter
Island . . . were actually the result of unintelligent forces would
bear the substantial burden of proof the claim demanded. In those examples,
the positive evidence for design would be there for all to see in the
purposeful arrangements of parts to produce the images. Any putative
evidence for the claim that the images were actually the result of unintelligent
processes . . . would have to clearly show that the postulated unintelligent
process could indeed do the job. In the absence of such a clear demonstration,
any person would be rationally justified to prefer the design explanation.[100]

It’s worth noting Fuller’s comment that: “As long as evolutionists
cannot bridge the model gap between the possible and the actual in their
core domain . . . the conceptual space remains for alternative
explanatory scenarios for the emergence of the cell and other prima
intelligently designed features of nature.”[101]
If it ‘looks like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a duck and sounds
like a duck’ then it should be assumed to be a duck, in the absence
of sufficient evidence to the contrary.[102]
Franklin Harold admits: “there are presently no detailed Darwinian accounts
of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular system, only a variety
of wishful speculations.”[103]
It should take more than “wishful speculations” to trump the prima
evidence for design.[104]

Behe distinguishes between common descent and adaptationism, accepting
the former but rejecting the latter as the explanation for (most of)
the former[105]:

Random mutation, natural selection, common descent
� three separate ideas welded into one theory . . . In brief, the evidence
for common descent seems compelling . . . Second, there’s also great
evidence that random mutation paired with natural selection can modify
life in important ways. Third, however, there is strong evidence that
random mutation is extremely limited.[106]

Fuller distinguishes between:

observable, often
experimentally induced, “microevolution” in the laboratory, and more
speculative inferences concerning “macroevolution” in the distant past
based on the fossil record. The neo-Darwinian synthesis consists largely
of an extended promissory note to the effect that these two senses of
“evolution” are ultimately the same.[107]

Arguing for macroevolution from the fossil record doesn’t show that
common descent is explicable in terms of an extrapolated micro-evolutionary
process. Indeed, most of The Edge of Evolution is devoted to
showing that, far from making good on Fuller’s “promissory note”, a
straight-forward extrapolation from the evidence of microevolution shows
that the macro-evolutionary explanation is all but empty (the merits
of design as an alternative explanation is an separate issue). Behe
urges: “Properly evaluating Darwin’s theory absolutely requires evaluating
random mutation and natural selection at the molecular level.”[108]
Nagel agrees:

Are the sources of genetic variation uniformly
random or not? That is the central issue, and the point of entry for
defenders of ID. In his recent book, The Edge of Evolution, Michael
Behe examines a body of currently available evidence about the normal
frequency and biochemical character of random mutations in the genetic
material of several organisms: the malaria parasite, the human immunodeficiency
virus (HIV), the bacterium E. coli, and humans. He argues that those
widely cited examples of evolutionary adaptation, including the development
of immunity to antibiotics, when properly understood, cannot be extrapolated
to explain the formation of complex new biological systems. These, he
claims, would require . . . mutations whose random probability, either
as simultaneous multiple mutations or as sequences of separately adaptive
individual mutations, is vanishingly small. He concludes that alterations
to DNA over the course of the history of life on earth must have included
many changes that we have no statistical right to expect, ones that
were beneficial beyond the wildest reach of probability . . . he believes
that random mutation is not sufficient to explain the range of variation
on which natural selection must have acted to yield the history of life
. . . This seems on the face of it to be a scientific claim, about what
the evidence suggests, and one that is not self-evidently absurd. I
cannot evaluate it; I merely want to stress its importance for the current

Nagel carefully distinguishes skepticism about adaptationalism from
advocating design: “Skepticism about the standard evolutionary model
is not limited to defenders of ID.”[110]
Nagel re-iterates the significance of Behe’s argument:

even if one merely regards the randomness of the
sources of variation as an open question, it seems to call for the consideration
of alternatives . . . A great deal depends on the likelihood that the
complex chemical systems we observe arose through a sufficiently long
sequence of random mutations in DNA, each of which enhanced fitness.
It is difficult to find in the accessible literature the grounds for
evolutionary biologists” confidence about this.[111]

He references:

Confidence expressed by Jerry Coyne . . . in his review of The
Edge of  Evolution
: “Behe furnishes no proof, no convincing
argument, that [protein-  protein] interactions cannot evolve gradually.
In fact, interactions between  proteins, like any complex interaction,
were certainly built up step by mutational  step, with each change
producing an interaction scrutinized by selection and  retained
if it enhanced an organism’s fitness” (The New Republic, June
18, 2007,  p. 42).[112]

Behe does not argue that protein-protein interactions “cannot
evolve gradually”, but that “complexes with more than two different
binding sites � ones that require three or more different kinds of proteins
� are beyond the edge of evolution.”[113]
And Behe does furnish “proof”:

Where is it reasonable to draw the edge of evolution?
. . . On the one side are our very best examples � from humanity’s trench
war with parasites � of what random mutation and natural selection are
known to do. We know that single changes to single genes can sometimes
elicit a significant beneficial effect. The classic example� is that
of sickle cell hemoglobin, where a change to one amino acid confers
resistance to malaria . . . More rarely, several mutations can sequentially
add to each other to improve an organisms’ chances of survival. An example
is the breaking of the regulatory controls of fetal hemoglobin to help
alleviate sickle cell disease. Very, very rarely, several amino acid
mutations appear simultaneously to confer a beneficial effect, such
as in chloroquine resistance� in malaria� a “CCC,” a “chloroquine-complexity
cluster,” . . . A CCC requires, on average, 1020, a hundred
billion billion, organisms � more than the number of mammals that has
ever existed on earth. So if other things were equal, the likelihood
of getting two new binding sites would be . . . the square of a CCC,
or one in ten to the fortieth power. Since that’s more cells than likely
to have ever existed on earth, such an event would not be expected to
have happened by Darwinian processes in the history of the world. Admittedly,
statistics are all about averages, so some freak event like this
happen . . . But it is not biologically reasonable to expect
it, or less likely events that occurred in the common descent of life
on earth . . . complexes of just three or more different proteins are
beyond the edge of evolution.[114]

Nagel cautions Darwinists:

It is not enough to say . . . that the incapacity
of evolutionary mechanisms to account for the entire evolution of life
has not been conclusively established. That is not required for an alternative
to be considered seriously, provided the alternative is not ruled out
in advance on other grounds. Those who offer empirical evidence for
ID do not have to argue that a completely non-purposive explanation
is impossible, only that it is very unlikely, given the evidence available.
That is a scientific claim, though a contestable one.[115]

This is precisely what Behe argues. Indeed, peer-reviewed scientific
debate about Behe’s empirical argument is ongoing.[116]
Whilst withholding agreement from Behe, Nagel affirms that no empirical
refutation of ID:

has ever been offered, let alone established.
What have been offered instead are necessarily speculative proposals
about how the problems posed by Behe might be handled by evolutionary
theory, declarations that no hypothesis involving divine intervention
counts as science, and assurances that evolutionary theory is not inconsistent
with the existence of God.[117]

Against Reticence: Why Thomas Nagel Should Embrace ID

In Nagel’s view: “A theory that defies common sense can be true,
but doubts about its truth should be suppressed only in the face of
exceptionally strong evidence.”[118]
Nagel is “skeptical of the claims of traditional evolutionary theory.
. .”[119]
The conjunction of these propositions surely leaves Nagel endorsing
“common sense”, by which I take him to mean the universally acknowledged
impression of design in nature. After all: “The evidence for [evolution]
is supposed to be evidence for the absence of purpose in the causation
of the development of life-forms on this planet . . . It displaces design
by proposing an alterative”[120]
Failure to establish an alternative is failure to displace design.

Moreover, Nagel views Behe’s critique of the extrapolation from “micro”
to “macro” evolution as a methodologically correct argument that,
sound, supports his own skepticism about Darwinism. Yet, despite
the fact that he thinks no empirical refutation of ID “has ever been
. . . established”[121],
Nagel is reticent about ID. Why? He confesses his reticence has a metaphysical

I do not regard divine intervention as a possibility, even though
I have no other  candidates.[122]

That is, since a) he has no candidate for the role of designer besides
divinity, and b) he regards divine design as impossible, he concludes
that he can’t embrace ID (Nagel’s argument is explicitly person relative).

Regarding a) it’s unclear if Nagel thinks there’s something relevant
to his agnosticism about ID in the fact that (i) he lacks a prior belief
in any actual candidate designer, or (ii) in the fact he can’t
think of a hypothetical designer candidate, besides God. Of course,
(ii) can only feature as a factor in Nagel’s argument on the condition
he regards divine design as impossible. Moreover, Nagel
most plausibly means (i), both because this interpretation follows naturally
from his focus on possibility in the preceding clause about divinity,
and because it seems unlikely that he can’t conceive any designer candidates
besides God.

Given that Nagel means (i), the implied assumption – that rationally
accepting a design inference requires prior belief in a plausible designer
candidate – is false. Suppose the SETI program discovered a signal telling
us how to build a working warp drive engine. It would be irrational
not to attribute such a signal to design, even if we had a prior
belief in the non-existence of extra-terrestrials! Design inferences
don’t depend upon a prior belief in the existence of actual designer
candidates. They depend upon the belief that it’s possible that
a designer might exist: “ID . . . requires only that design be
admitted as a possibility . . .”[123]
Moreover, this assumption is bound up in Nagel’s recognition
that the common sense design alternative to Darwinism carries the presumption
of truth (since real design entails a real designer, and real
designers must of course be possible).

Regarding (b), Nagel admits: “I recognize that this is because of
an aspect of my overall worldview that does not rest on empirical grounds
or any other kind of rational grounds.”[124]
This unwarranted presupposition adversely affects Nagel’s assessment
of ID:

I do not think the existence of God can be disproved.
So someone who can offer serious scientific reasons to doubt the adequacy
of the theory of evolution, and who believes in God, in the same immediate
way that I believe there is no god, can quite reasonably conclude that
the hypothesis of design should be taken seriously.[125]

Nagel doesn’t embrace ID because he doesn’t believe in God.
That’s like rejecting a design inference from crop-circles because one
doesn’t believe in aliens! To take a design inference seriously, one
need only regard the existence of a designer per se as a possibility.
And recognition that the design hypothesis enjoys the presumption of
truth (something Nagel appears to acknowledge) includes the recognition
that the existence of a designer per se is a possibility! Nagel’s
reticence about ID rests upon a failure to recognize that the design
hypothesis provides the embarkation point, rather than the terminus,
to debate over the nature of the designer.


Johnson’s question about the relationship between worldviews and
scientific theorising has proved to be the right question:

In my mind the most important thing is to get
people to ask the right questions, not to try to tell them how to
the questions. In a sense, all who are willing to address
the right questions are participants in our program regardless of what
answers they want to give . . . the right question has been whether
science and naturalism are really the same thing, or whether scientific
evidence may be moving away from the materialist answers. If someone
thinks this is a good question which deserves fair-minded investigation,
he or she is travelling side-by-side with us � even if he or she thinks
that naturalistic science will eventually solve its problems. . .[126]

Many critics remain willing to deploy the “it’s not science” objection
against ID. However, Johnson’s log-splitting question has successfully
shaped a growing debate about origins. Not only are an increasing number
of atheists prepared to travel “side-by-side” with Johnson’s philosophical
point that there is a distinction between science and naturalism
that means ID is a scientific theory; but growing acknowledgement
of this point appears to have opened up space for atheists to express
dissatisfaction with Neo-Darwinism as a scientific explanation.
Monton is standing on solid and mainstream ground in arguing
that “We shouldn’t get caught up debating whether ID counts as science;
the focus should be on the empirical arguments for and against ID.”[127]

When one combines Nagel’s acceptance that ID is science (even
if it were to explicitly identify God as the designer
!) with the
fact that he all but endorses Behe’s Edge of Evolution argument,
and the fact that Richard Dawkins concedes life on Earth might
be the product of design (just so long as the designer/s have a naturalistic
one can see that the  “wedge” has gone mainstream:

The goal of the Intelligent Design Movement is
to achieve an open philosophy of science that permits consideration
of any explanations toward which the evidence may be pointing . . .
visibly making evolutionary naturalism the subject of critical investigation
based on evidence, rather than allowing it to rule by default as the
unquestioned philosophical position to which science must by definition

Endorsement of the scientific status of ID by the likes of Dawkins,
Fuller, Monton and Nagel represents a genuine breakthrough for the “wedge”.
What Johnson calls the “modernist log” is no longer cracked: it’s split.

The Design Inference from Specified Complexity Defended by Scholars Outside the Intelligent Design Movement

by Peter S. Williams (MA, MPhil)

Southampton, England

The quality of a scientific approach or opinion depends
on the strength of its factual premises and on the depth and consistency of its
reasoning, not on its appearance in a particular journal or on its popularity among
other scientists.

Stephen Jay Gould, amici curiae,
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals

According to mathematician and philosopher William A. Dembski, “given an event,
object, or structure, to convince ourselves that it is designed we need to show
that it is improbably (i.e. complex) and suitably patterned (i.e. specified).”[1]
Dembski has defended “specified complexity”-or “complex specified information” (CSI)-as
a reliable design detection criterion in numerous writings,[2]
including his peer-reviewed monograph The Design Inference.[3]
In simplified sum, a long string of random letters is complex without being specified
(that is, without conforming to an independently given pattern that we have not
simply read off the object or event in question). A short sequence of letters like
“this” or “that” is specified without being sufficiently complex to outstrip the
capacity of chance to explain this conformity (for example, letters drawn at random
from a Scrabble bag will occasionally form a short word). Neither complexity without
specificity nor specificity without complexity compels us to infer design. However,
this paper is both specified (conforming to the functional requirements of grammatical
English) and sufficiently complex (doing so at a level of complexity that
makes it unreasonable to attribute this match to luck) to trigger a design inference
on the grounds that “in all cases where we know the causal origin of . . . specified
complexity, experience has shown that intelligent design played a causal role.”[4]

As J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig note, “The central aspect of ID theory
is the idea that the designedness of some things that are designed can be identified
as such in scientifically acceptable ways. . . . William Dembski has been the main
figure in developing this aspect of ID theory.”[5]
Hence the propositions that design can be detected via CSI, and that doing so can
be legitimately described as a scientific activity, have become foundational principles
of Intelligent Design (ID).

Leaving to one side the secondary question of whether inferring design can be
legitimately described as a scientific activity,[6]
this paper reviews the work of several scientists and philosophers outside the ID
movement, in order to demonstrate that, explicitly and implicitly, they endorse
CSI as a design detection criterion. This agreement is metaphysically bipartisan,
coming from naturalists and theists alike. This agreement also comes from hostile
witnesses, in that some of the scholars whose work I will review are actively opposed
to ID.

Independent agreement among a diverse range of scholars with different worldviews
as to the utility of CSI adds warrant to the premise that CSI is indeed a sound
criterion of design detection. And since the question of whether the design hypothesis
is true is more important than the question of whether it is scientific, such warrant
therefore focuses attention on the disputed question of whether sufficient empirical
evidence of CSI within nature exists to justify the design hypothesis.

ID is a theory advanced by a growing number of scientists and other academics
(design theorists) who believe empirical evidence within the natural world justifies
a design inference on the basis of reliable design detection criteria (such as CSI):
“As a scientific theory, ID only claims that there is empirical evidence that key
features of the universe . . . are the products of an intelligent cause.”[7]
Neither “creationism,”[8] nor natural
theology,[9] ID simply holds that

intelligent agency, as an aspect of scientific theory
making, has more explanatory power in accounting for the specified, and sometimes
irreducible complexity of some physical systems, including biological entities,
and/or the existence of the universe as a whole, than the blind forces of . . .

As Marcus R. Ross explains, “ID is classified as a philosophically minimalistic
position, asserting that real design exists in nature and is empirically detectable
by the methods of science.”[11] Hence, abstracted from the debate
about whether or not ID is science, ID can be advanced as a single, logically valid

  • (Premise 1)    Specified complexity reliably points to intelligent
  • (Premise 2)    At least one aspect of nature exhibits specified
  • (Conclusion)Therefore, at least one aspect of nature reliably points to
    intelligent design.

Concerning premise 2, design theorists have proposed that intelligent design
can be inferred from several facets of nature, including cosmic fine-tuning, the
fine-tuning of our local cosmic habitat, the origin of life, irreducibly complex
biomolecular systems, and the “Cambrian Explosion.”[12] However,
my concern here is with the first premise, without which the empirical data lacks
evidential traction. Rather than drawing upon the work of its defenders within the
ID movement, I will draw attention to the fact that scientists and philosophers
outside the movement, including some who are opposed to the theory, use CSI as a
design detection criterion. These scholars can be divided into two groups: atheists
and theists. I will review each group in turn.

Three Atheists Outside the ID Movement

Massimo Pigliucci: Cosmic Fine-Tuning
and Irreducible Complexity

Massimo Pigliucci is an associate professor at the University of Tennessee in
Knoxville, where he teaches ecology and evolutionary biology.  Pigliucci has
a PhD in botany from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in philosophy from
the University of Tennessee. A self-styled “skeptic,” Pigliucci’s articles have
appeared in such publications as The Skeptic and Free Inquiry.
According to Pigliucci,

Should we conclusively determine that the probability
of existence of our universe is infinitesimally small, and should we fail to explain
why physical constants have assumed the quantities that we observe, the possibility
of a designed universe would have to be considered seriously.[13]

In discussing the fine-tuning of the cosmos, Pigliucci lays down a pretheoretic
version of Dembski’s CSI criterion, which infers design, on the basis of experience,
whenever an independent specification (for example, the set of physical constants
required by a life sustaining universe) is exhibited at sufficiently low probability.
Pigliucci and design theorists differ on whether we can infer that our universe
is indeed the product of design, but there would appear to be at least an implicit
agreement on the criteria for making such a judgement.

Pigliucci explicitly affirms that “[Michael] Behe . . . does have a point concerning
irreducible complexity. . . . irreducible complexity is indeed a hallmark of intelligent
design.”[14] Behe’s most notable presentation of irreducible complexity
(IC) is Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, where
he defined his terms as follows:

By irreducibly complex I mean a single system
composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to basic function,
wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease
functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly . . . by
slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to
an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition non-functional.[15]

Dembski points out that IC systems are a concrete example of specified complexity:

The irreducibly complex systems Behe considers require
numerous components specifically adapted to each other and each necessary for function.
On any formal complexity-theoretic analysis, they are complex in the sense required
by the complexity-specification criterion. Moreover, in virtue of their function,
these systems embody patterns independent of the actual living systems. Hence these
systems are also specified in the sense required by the complexity-specification

Charles Darwin argued that the existence of a single IC system would falsify
his evolutionary hypothesis: “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ
existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive modifications,
my theory would absolutely break down.”[17] Darwin made the universal
negative bet that no such system would be discovered and his contemporary followers,
like Pigliucci, make the same bet.[18] By definition, any system
that is IC cannot have evolved directly by a series of incremental evolutionary
improvements. Ruling out direct, incremental evolution does not exclude what Darwin
called “a sudden leap,” but as Richard Dawkins notes, “The larger the leap through
genetic space, the lower the probability that the resulting change will be viable,
let alone an improvement.”[19] Behe observes that

Even if a system is irreducibly complex (and thus cannot
have been produced directly) . . . one can not definitely rule out the possibility
of an indirect, circuitous route. As the complexity of an interacting system increases,
though, the likelihood of such an indirect route drops precipitously. . . .[20]

Behe argues that at the biomolecular level of life (an unknown “black box” in
Darwin’s day) there are several IC systems that are highly unlikely to have been
formed by numerous, successive (unguided) indirect modifications, “including aspects
of protein transport, blood clotting, closed circular DNA, electron transport, the
bacterial flagellum, telomeres, photosynthesis, transcription regulation, and much
more.”[21] Given that IC systems are resistant to evolutionary
explanation, and given our everyday experience that intelligent agents regularly
produce IC systems (and other systems exhibiting CSI), Behe argues that the best
explanation of such molecular machines is intelligent design:

the onus of proof is on the one who denies the plain evidence
of the eyes. For example, a person who conjectured that the statues on Easter Island
or the images on Mount Rushmore were actually the result of unintelligent forces
would bear the substantial burden of proof the claim demanded. In those examples,
the positive evidence for design would be there for all to see in the purposeful
arrangements of parts to produce the images. Any putative evidence for the claim
that the images were actually the result of unintelligent processes (perhaps erosion
by some vague, hypothesized chaotic forces) would have to clearly show that the
postulated unintelligent process could indeed do the job. In the absence of such
a clear demonstration, any person would be rationally justified to prefer the design

If there is irreducible complexity in living organisms, then Pigliucci would
agree with Behe and Dembski that it is evidence of intelligent design: “irreducible
complexity is indeed a valid criterion to distinguish between intelligent and nonintelligent
design.”[23] However, Pigliucci thinks that “there is no evidence
so far of irreducible complexity in living organisms.”[24]

Richard Dawkins

Presidents and Safe-Cracking. Zoologist Richard Dawkins is Oxford University’s
Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. Dawkins is well-known as a vocal
atheist through his popular books and media appearances.[25] He
is also an outspoken critic of intelligent design theory.[26]

In Climbing Mount Improbable, Dawkins draws a distinction between objects
that are clearly designed and objects that are not clearly designed but superficially
look like they are-which he calls “designoid.”[27] Dawkins
illustrates the concept of being designoid with a hillside that suggests a human
profile: “Once you have been told, you can just see a slight resemblance to either
John or Robert Kennedy. But some don’t see it and it is certainly easy to believe
that the resemblance is accidental.”[28] Dawkins contrasts this
Kennedy-esque hillside with the four president’s heads carved into Mt. Rushmore
in America, which “are obviously not accidental: they have design written all over
them.”[29] Hence Dawkins admits intelligence is capable of outperforming
the design-producing resources of nature in such a way as to leave empirical indicators
of its activity.

Dawkins argues that, while “a rock can weather into the shape of a nose seen
from a certain vantage point,”[30] such a rock (for example, the
Kennedy-esque hillside) is designoid. Mt. Rushmore, on the other hand, is clearly
not designoid: “Its four heads are clearly designed.”[31]
The fact that Rushmore is designed is, according to Dawkins, empirically detectable:
“The sheer number of details [that is, the amount of complexity] in which the Mount
Rushmore faces resemble the real things [that is, the complexity fits four specifications]
is too great to have come about by chance.”[32] In terms of mere
possibility, says Dawkins: “The weather could have done the same job. .
. . But of all the possible ways of weathering a mountain, only a tiny minority
[complexity] would be speaking likenesses of four particular human beings [specification].”[33]
Hence, “Even if we didn’t know the history of Mount Rushmore, we’d estimate the
odds against its four heads [specification] being carved by accidental weathering
as astronomically high . . . [complexity].”[34]

Again, Dawkins argues that “Of all the unique and, with hindsight equally improbable,
positions of the combination lock [complexity], only one opens the lock [specification].
. . . The uniqueness of the arrangement . . . that opens the safe, [has] nothing
to do with hindsight. It is specified in advance.”[35]
According to Dawkins, the best explanation of an open safe is not that someone got
lucky, but that someone knew the specific and complex combination
required to open it.

Directed Panspermia and “God-Like
Crop circles are obviously the product of design because they exhibit
CSI. Some people suggest that the source of crop-circle design is extraterrestrial.
No matter how sceptical we are about extraterrestrials, it would be irrational to
argue that because extraterrestrials do not exist, crop circles are not the product
of design (since aliens are a sufficient but not a necessary condition for crop
circles). Likewise, however sceptical someone is about the existence of God, it
would be irrational to argue that since God does not exist, nothing in nature is
the product of design (since God is a sufficient but not a necessary condition of
intelligent design in nature). The scientific inference to design, whether in the
case of crop circles or not, is prior to the inference to a particular designer,
and it stands or falls on its own merits. Dawkins admits as much in an article that
appeared in the secular humanist magazine Free Inquiry. In this editorial
opinion piece, Dawkins explicitly acknowledged that CSI is a valid criterion of
design detection:

“specified complexity” takes care of the sensible point
that any particular rubbish heap is improbable, with hindsight, in the unique disposition
of its parts. A pile of detached watch parts tossed in a box is, with hindsight,
as improbable as a fully functioning, genuinely complicated watch. What is specified
about a watch is that it is improbable in the specific direction of telling the
time. . . .[36]

Dawkins is clearly saying that it is the specified complexity of a watch
that warrants a design inference (mere complexity is not the issue). Dawkins admits
that “Behe and Dembski correctly pose the problem of specified complexity as something
that needs explaining,”[37] and he even allows that “Design is
the temporarily correct explanation for some particular manifestations of specified
complexity such as a car or a washing machine.”[38] Here we begin
to see Dawkins’s philosophical commitment to naturalism affecting his conclusions:
“sooner or later, in order to explain the illusion of design, we are going to have
to terminate the regress [of explanations] with something more explanatory than
design itself,”[39] says Dawkins, for “Design can never be an
ultimate explanation.”[40] Dawkins is happy to concede that intelligent
design is a legitimate and evidentially supported explanation for CSI, but his naturalistic
philosophy dictates that explaining anything in terms of intelligent design
is only ever a “temporarily correct”[41] placeholder for a nonteleological
explanation. This philosophical deduction from naturalism applies just as much to
watches and washing machines as to cosmic fine-tuning or bacterial flagella.

Of course, even in the case of design detected within the texture of nature itself
there are numerous explanatory options. Inferring intelligent design does not automatically
equate with inferring any particular designer(s). As Dawkins writes: “It could conceivably
turn out, as Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel . . . suggested, that evolution was
seeded by deliberate design, in the form of bacteria sent from a distant planet
in the nose cone of a spaceship.”[42]

Nobel laureate Francis Crick (credited as codiscoverer of the double helix structure
of DNA) and origin-of-life researcher Leslie Orgel first proposed the theory of
“directed panspermia” as a hypothesis worth considering in an article published
in Icarus.[43] Crick expanded upon the hypothesis in
his book Life Itself suggesting that an advanced alien species sent one
or more spacecraft to earth with the intent of peppering it with the necessary life
forms (or components of life) to generate a zoo of diverse species.[44]
The theory continues to attract a small number of supporters amongst origin-of-life
researchers. Dawkins’ philosophy dictates that such an explanation must ultimately
track back to a nonteleological explanation. Given the assumption that minds can
be explained naturalistically (an assumption Dawkins makes),[45]
metaphysical naturalism is logically compatible with inferring intelligent design
from nature. Perhaps, as members of the naturalistic, ID-endorsing Raelian UFO religion
believe, aliens are responsible for life on earth.[46] Perhaps
the big bang was fine-tuned to produce a life-sustaining universe by aliens in a
parallel universe. For Dawkins, the ultimate explanation of any and all CSI
be naturalistic:

It is easy to believe that the universe houses creatures
so far superior to us as to seem like gods. I believe it. But those godlike beings
must themselves have been lifted into existence by natural selection or some equivalent.
. . .[47]

As Dawkins says in response to the question “What do you believe is true even
though you cannot prove it?”[48]

. . . I believe that all intelligence, all creativity,
and all design anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian
natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period
of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie
the universe.[49]

Since Dawkins explicitly accepts CSI as a reliable criterion of design detection,
and since he already believes in the existence of “godlike” extraterrestrial beings,
one would predict that were he to concede the existence of empirical evidence within
the natural world that triggers a design inference, he would likely affirm that
the intelligence in question was extraterrestrial, thereby retaining his philosophical
assumption that design inferences can only be temporarily correct explanations that
must be susceptible to a reductive, naturalistic explanation in the final analysis.[50]
This thought experiment demonstrates that design theorists are right when they point
out that arguing for intelligent design does not necessarily equate with arguing
for supernatural, let alone divine design. As Michael J. Behe explains:

my argument is limited to design itself; I strongly emphasize
that it is not an argument for the existence of a benevolent God, as Paley’s was.
I hasten to add that I myself do believe in a benevolent God, and I recognize that
philosophy and theology may be able to extend the argument. But a scientific argument
for design in biology does not reach that far. Thus while I argue for design, the
question of the identity of the designer is left open . . . as regards the identity
of the designer, modern ID theory happily echoes Isaac Newton’s phrase, hypothesis
non fingo

Potential philosophical and theological disputes about the nature of the designer(s)
aside, Richard Dawkins explicitly endorses the first premise of the argument for
intelligent design.

Carl Sagan: Presidential Eggplants
and the “Face” on Mars

Carl Sagan was an American astronomer, astrobiologist, and science popularizer.
Sagan was a pioneer in exobiology, promoting the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence
(SETI). A famous author of popular science books, Sagan also wrote the novel
, upon which the 1997 film of the same name was based. Considering that
the scientists in Contact infer the existence of extraterrestrials when
they detect a radio signal exhibiting specified complexity,[52]
it is unsurprising that Sagan implicitly endorses CSI as a design detection criterion
in his other writings.

In The Demon Haunted World, Sagan debunks a number of claims about purported
instances of design. For example:

There was a celebrated eggplant that closely resembled
Richard M. Nixon. What shall we deduce from this fact? Divine or extraterrestrial
intervention? Republican meddling in eggplant genetics? No. We recognize that there
are large numbers of eggplants in the world and that, given enough of them, sooner
or later we’ll come upon one that looks like a human face, even a very particular
human face.[53]

Notice that the suggestion of design here is based upon the fact that the eggplant
in question exhibits a specification. In this case, the specification is looking
like a human face, and more than that, looking like a particular human face (although
it is hard to believe that the resemblance can have been all that tight).
Sagan implicitly accepts that the eggplant exhibits a specification. So why does
Sagan reject the idea that the correspondence between the eggplant and the Nixon
specification is the result of design? Because the example lacks complexity. Given
the number of human faces and eggplants that have existed, Sagan argues that it
is not all that unlikely that we would come across an eggplant that bore a resemblance
to Nixon. Hence we do not have to deduce divine, or extraterrestrial, or Republican
design from the eggplant.

Sagan’s argument for rejecting a design inference from the eggplant implicitly
accepts that if the eggplant exhibited a specification at a sufficient level of
complexity, then a design inference would be justified. In other words, Sagan recognized
that a design inference is warranted when faced with an example of “specified complexity.”
This is why, in order to debunk a proposed instance of design which he admits exhibits
specification, Sagan argues that the proposed example lacks sufficient complexity.

Sagan implicitly endorses the point that while specified complexity warrants
an inference to “intelligent design,” it does not in and of itself warrant an inference
to any particular designer: “Divine or extraterrestrial intervention? Republican
meddling in eggplant genetics?”[54] All three explanations would
be possible candidates if a design inference in this case were justified.

Sagan goes on to discuss the infamous so-called face on Mars,[55]
first photographed by one of the Viking orbiters in 1976. Sagan argues against a
design inference in this instance by arguing that the “face” is neither very complex
nor tightly specified. (Pointing out that something does not exhibit CSI can only
justify the conclusion that it was not designed in concert with an application of
Ockham’s razor, since objects can be intelligently designed without exhibiting CSI.
“Specified complexity” is only a positive test for design. Arguing against a design
inference is not the same as arguing against design per se.) Sagan first
examines the complexity of the “face”:

Mars has a surface area of almost 150 million square kilometers.
Is it so astonishing that one (comparatively) postage-stamp-sized patch in 150 million
should look artificial-especially given our penchant, since infancy, for finding

In other words, it is not all that unlikely that a small area of Mars
should look sufficiently like a face under certain conditions to make it appear
face-like to casual observation. Then Sagan goes after specification:

If we study the original image more carefully, we find
that a strategically placed “nostril”-one that adds much to the impression of a
face-is in fact a black dot corresponding to lost data in the radio transmission
from Mars to Earth. The best picture of the Face shows one side lit by the Sun,
the other in deep shadow. Using the original digital data, we can severely enhance
the contrast in the shadows. When we do, we find something rather unfacelike there.
The Face is at best half a face. . . . the Martian sphinx looks natural-not
artificial, not a dead ringer for a human face

While at first glance the “face” seems to exhibit a specification, a closer look
shows that it does not. In Richard Dawkins’ terminology, the supposed face on Mars
is “designoid”; it gives a superficial impression of design at first glance, but
the more we investigate its salient features, the less designed it looks. Hence
Sagan concludes, “It was probably sculpted by slow geological processes over millions
of years.”[58] The important point here is that in order to justify
this conclusion Sagan seeks to undermine precisely those twin features that Dembski
argues are as jointly sufficient conditions for justifying a design inference, namely,
complexity and specification. If Sagan is right to argue that the “face” does not
justify a design inference because it fails to exhibit specified complexity (indeed,
because it is neither sufficiently complex nor tightly specified) then design theorists
must be right to argue that anything which doesexhibit specified complexity
be attributed to intelligent design. For example, Sagan would not argue
that slow geological processes sculpted the presidential faces on Mount Rushmore,
because unlike the “face” on Mars, Mount Rushmore does exhibit specified complexity.

Although he does not use the terminology of “specified complexity,” Sagan clearly
endorses specified complexity as an adequate criterion of design detection, because
he argues that design inferences cannot be supported if the putative designed object
lacks sufficient complexity, fails to exhibit a specification, or both. This negative
argument implies the positive argument that when a putative designed object does
exhibit CSI, a design inference is thereby warranted.

Four Theists Outside the ID Movement

Keith Ward: Abiogenesis and Improbable Processes Structured
to a Good End

Keith Ward is the Regius Professor of Divinity and head of the Faculty of Theology
at the University of Oxford, and is a fellow of the British Academy. Ward contributed
to the “Theistic Evolution” section of the Cambridge University volume Debating
Design: From Darwin to DNA
, which was coedited by Michael Ruse and William
A. Dembski.

In God, Faith, and The New Millennium, Ward takes stock of the implications
of the improbability of abiogenesis:

It seems hugely improbable that, in the primeval seas
of the planet earth, amino acids should meet and combine to form large molecular
structures capable of self-replication. . . . The motive for positing some sort
of intelligent design is almost overwhelming.[59]

Ward references a specification (being “capable of self-replication”) and argues
that the case for positing “intelligent design” is “almost overwhelming” because
the structures exhibiting this specification are complex (“hugely improbable”).
Ward goes on to argue that:

if one is asking . . . whether a very improbable process
is compatible with intelligent design, the answer is that if the process is elegantly
structured to a good end, then the more improbable the process, the more likely
it is to be the product of intelligent design.[60]

Ward is clearly not arguing for the mere compatibility of very improbable
processes with intelligent design; rather, he is arguing that very improbable processes
warrant explanation in terms of intelligent design when they are also specified.[61]

Ward does (unnecessarily in my view) restrict what ID theorists would term a
specification to the elegant achievement of a good end; but this is neither here
nor there with respect to the observation that Ward argues for intelligent design
by advancing the claim that nature exhibits non-ad hoc patterns at low
probability and that the combination of the right sort of pattern (specifications)
with sufficient improbability (complexity) warrants a design inference. That is,
although Ward does not argue that his design inference is scientific, he is otherwise
at least in the same ballpark as Dembski as regards the methodology of design detection.

Colin J. Humphreys: The “Guiding Hand” of Exodus

Colin Humphreys is the Goldsmiths’ Professor of Materials Science at Cambridge
University, and a vice president of Christians in Science. In The Miracles of
Exodus: A Scientist’s Discovery of the Extraordinary Natural Causes of the Biblical
, Humphreys argues that the Exodus account in the Bible is factually
accurate “down to points of tiny detail”[62] and that modern science
can “explain every miracle in the Exodus story.”[63] However,
Humphreys concludes by asking:

Is there any evidence of a “guiding hand” in the events
of the Exodus? What I’ve found is that the Exodus story describes a series of natural
events like earthquakes, volcanoes, hail, and strong winds occurring time after
time at precisely the right moment for the deliverance of Moses and the Israelites.
Any one of these events occurring at the right time could be ascribed to lucky chance.
When a whole series of events happens at just the right moment, then it is either
incredibly lucky chance or else there is a God who works in, with, and through natural
events to guide the affairs and the destinies of individuals and of nations. Which
belief is correct: Chance or God? I’m not going to answer that question for you;
you must answer it yourself.[64]

It is clear that Humphrey’s himself would answer his question by saying that
there is indeed evidence of a “guiding hand” in the events of the Exodus, because
the specification of the Israelites being delivered from slavery in Egypt and into
the “promised land” was exhibited by a series of events with a very high level of
compound complexity.[65]

Denis Alexander: The Anthropic Teleological Argument

Denis Alexander is head of the T Cell Laboratory, the Babraham Institute, Cambridge.
He is also director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s
College, Cambridge, and editor of the journal Science and Christian Belief.
Dr. Alexander is a theistic evolutionist vigorously opposed to ID.[66]

In Rebuilding the Matrix, Alexander observes that the search for extraterrestrial
intelligence “is based on the assumption that a single message from space will reveal
the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.”[67]
He quotes Norman L. Geisler that “even if the object of pursuit is the reception
of only one message, nevertheless, the basis of knowing that it was produced by
intelligence is the regular conjunction of intelligent beings with this kind of
complex information.”[68] Although Alexander does not make it
explicit, the “kind of complex information” Geisler is talking about in this passage
is complex specified information.[69]

Alexander has earlier argued for design on the basis of the fine-tuning of cosmic

we have argued that the universe has some very unusual
properties that render conscious life possible-and that those properties are not
unusual because we observe them but because the physical constants that make them
unusual could, presumably, have been otherwise.[70]

Alexander’s anthropic-teleological argument is based upon the existence of “unusual
properties,” that is, an unlikely or complex set of physical properties, that are
specified as the set of properties (or one of a small number of such sets) “that
render conscious life possible.” While Alexander does not use the terminology
of CSI, his argument nevertheless uses CSI by appealing to the combination of complexity
(“unusual properties”) with a specification (“that render conscious life possible”).

Alexander’s reliance upon CSI is emphasized by the fact that he quotes design-theorist
William Lane Craig in defence of the argument from fine-tuning: “we should be surprised
that we do observe basic features of the universe which individually or collectively
are excessively improbable [complexity] and are necessary conditions of our own
existence [specification].”[71]

Alexander paints two scenarios to push home the point that one cannot sidestep
this argument by noting that we would not exist to be surprised by fine-tuning if
that tuning were not as fine as it is. The first story involves a kidnapped accountant
told that unless he wins the national lottery for ten consecutive weeks he will
be killed, who is surprised to survive (at odds of around 1 in 1060),
but who is told that “he should not be surprised that such an unlikely event happened
for, had it not, he would not have been alive to observe it.”[72]
Clearly, the accountant is right to be surprised and to suspect that there must
be an explanation for his survival. The second story concerns a gambler who will
be killed unless he gets ten coins flips in a row to show heads: “the fact of the
gambler still being alive does not explain why he got ten heads in a row-the probability
of this unlikely event remains at one in 1,024. What requires explanation is not
that the gambler is alive and therefore observing something but rather that he is
not dead.”[73] Indeed, what requires explanation, in both stories,
is the occurrence of unlikely (that is, complex) events that are specified as the
necessary conditions of our observers not being killed. Likewise, in the case of
the anthropic-teleological argument, what requires explanation is that “our finely
tuned universe is not just any old �something,’ but contains within it a planet
full of people who postulate theories about cosmology and the meaning of the universe.
. . .”[74] That is, an explanation of fine tuning, indeed
an explanation in terms of design
, is required not simply because the fine-tuning
represents an unlikely(complex) set of constants, but because the particular unlikely
constants that exist are specified as necessary preconditions for the existence
of complex life:

The data pointing to a series of remarkably finely tuned
constants [complexity] which have promoted the emergence of conscious life [specification]
sit more comfortably with the idea of a God with plans and purposes for the universe
than they do with the atheistic presupposition that “it just happened.”[75]

Alexander implicitly deploys CSI as an argument for the conclusion that the data
of cosmic fine-tuning does demand an explanation rather than an evasion. Alexander
also implicitly uses CSI as a basis for inferring that the best explanation of cosmic
fine-tuning is intelligent design; for the reason that the specified complexity
of cosmic fine-tuning “sits more comfortably with the idea of a God with plans and
purposes for the universe than they do with the atheistic presupposition that �it
just happened'”[76] is surely “the regular conjunction of intelligent
beings with this kind of complex information.”[77]

In a lecture presented by Christians in Science at Southampton University, Alexander
made it clear that he has “no problem with the language of design so long as it’s
kept to the big picture design which makes science possible [and which is seen in]
the anthropic structure of the universe.”[78] Just as Phillip
E. Johnson has asked Darwinists, “What should we do if empirical evidence and materialist
philosophy are going in different directions?”[79] so I would
ask Alexander what he would do if empirical evidence which triggers a design inference
according to the same criteria that he applies to “the big picture” of anthropic
fine-tuning were to be found within any of the smaller details of that picture?
Which should we deny, the empirical evidence, the design-detection criteria which
he applies to cosmic fine-tuning, or his objection to invoking the language of design
at that level?

Alexander’s objection to using “the language of design,” except in the case of
“the anthropic structure of the universe,” either rests upon the confusion of intelligent
design with supernatural design and the questionable assumption that the latter
cannot enter into scientific theorizing;[80] or else (if such
a confusion is not made) it implies either the excommunication from science of numerous
established scientific fields (for example, SETI, which Alexander himself references),
or an apparent double standard which admits the scientific validity of intelligent
design in some scientific fields (for example, cosmology) but not in others (for
example, molecular-biology).

Basil Mitchell: Telekinesis and Disembodied Agency

In the course of defending the coherence of talking about incorporeal agency
in The Justification of Religious Belief, Basil Mitchell (then Nolloth
Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion and Fellow of Oriel College
Oxford) has this to say on the subject of telekinesis (the alleged power to alter
events, such as the fall of dice, by simply “willing”):

Whether or not telekinesis actually occurs, it does not
seem difficult to specify the conditions under which we should be prepared to admit
its occurrence. If the dice were to fall with a certain number upwards whenever
a particular individual was asked to bring it about and not otherwise, we should
conclude that he had the power to cause physical changes without bodily movement.
Bodily movement on the part of the agent is normally a reliable guide as to whether
an occurrence is an action or not, and, if so, whose; but we could, in principle,
settle both questions without recourse to this criterion, if the other indications
were clear enough. What are these? A combination of the following: (i) The unlikelihood
of the event’s occurrence apart from the intervention of some agent. (ii) The event’s
contributing to some purpose. (iii) The agreement of that purpose with the independently
known character and purposes of the putative agent.[81]

(Note that Mitchell is arguing that intelligent design can in principle be detected
even if it is not implemented by bodily agency.) Mitchell’s design detection criterion
has more parts than Dembski’s, but then it attempts to do more, because it attempts
to provide a criterion whereby we can detect not only that “an occurrence is an
action” but also “whose” action it is. Mitchell’s criterion for detecting intelligent
design per se appears to be similar to Dembski’s.

Mitchell says that whether an occurrence such as the falling of dice is an action
(that is, is the result of intelligent design) can be answered positively if two
conditions are met-and those conditions are sufficient complexity (“The unlikelihood
of the event’s occurrence apart from the intervention of some agent”) combined with
an independent specification (“specify the conditions under which we should be prepared
to admit its occurrence”; “If the dice were to fall with a certain number upwards
whenever a particular individual was asked to bring it about and not otherwise”;
“The event’s contributing to some purpose”). Knowledge concerning “The agreement
of that purpose with the independently known character and purposes of the putative
agent,” while helpful in pinning a designed event on a specific agent, is clearly
not necessary for Mitchell’s design inference per se. This shows once again
that, as Dembski asserts, “detecting design . . . does not implicate any particular

Suppose paranormal investigators set up some rigorous scientific experiments
into telekinesis (would critics of ID condemn such experiments as nonscientific
in principle?[83]) and the dice do indeed “fall with a certain
number upwards whenever a particular individual was asked to bring it about and
not otherwise.” Suppose the specified complexity of this result exceeded Dembski’s
universal probability bound (something Mitchell does not bother calculating): While
we should conclude that the best explanation for this result is intelligent design,
we could not implicate our test subject on the basis of CSI alone. Any agent with
the requisite causal power might have caused the result we detected. To settle on
attributing the exercise of telekinetic powers in this instance to our test subject
(rather than to God, or a god, or a ghost, or a demon, or an angel, or another human
or alien with telekinetic powers who is trying to dupe our researchers into thinking
that their test subject has telekinetic powers when they do not) our scientists
must appeal to criteria beyond CSI. Mitchell’s “agreement of that purpose
with the independently known character and purposes of the putative agent” might
be useful here; but one imagines that Ockham’s razor should feature fairly heavily
in such deliberations.

Unlike contemporary ID theorists, Basil Mitchell did not clearly distinguish
between criteria for inferring design and criteria for inferring the responsibility
of putative designers. Mitchell also left his design detection criterion in a fairly
pretheoretic state (simply suggesting the combination of low probability with a
specification) without the context of information theory and universal probability
bounds deployed by Dembski; and perhaps for these reasons, Mitchell never made much
of his criterion. Nevertheless, it seems clear that Mitchell was thinking along
the same lines as Dembski.


William A. Dembski claims to have formalized (one of) the intuitive design detection
tools of humanity. Confidence in the truth of this claim, and in the claim that
CSI is a reliable criterion of design detection, is bolstered by the fact that academics
outside the ID movement (irrespective of their worldview, and sometimes despite
their own negative assessment of ID) explicitly or implicitly employ (pretheoretic
versions of) the CSI criterion when arguing for (and against) design inferences.

Moreover, the greater the number of scholars who independently arrive at the
same answer to a problem, the more confident we tend to be about the truth of their
answer. Hence, discovering CSI used to solve the problem of justifying and repudiating
design inferences in the work of a diverse group of scholars outside the ID movement
(including several “hostile witnesses” opposed to ID) justifies some confidence
in the first premise of ID.

Since the conclusion of intelligent design follows logically if we add a premise
affirming the existence of sufficient relevant empirical evidence (even if in only
one field of inquiry), the truth of such a second premise would therefore seem to
be the crucial issue between supporters and detractors of the claim that intelligent
design theory can be advanced as a sound argument. And if ID is acknowledged to
be advancing a sound argument, advocates of the definitional, “it’s not science”
critique of ID will either have to eat their proverbial hats, or else endorse transferring
assets from university science departments to philosophy departments in the interests
of furthering our understanding of physical reality.

For references to this article, click here.

A Rough Guide to Creation & Evolution

A Rough Guide to Creation & Evolution

Peter S. Williams (MA, MPhil)

Whether or not there is an objective purpose to life obviously depends upon
whether or not life was created for a purpose. You can’t get purpose without
a purposer. It’s impossible to entertain the question of whether life might
be created for a purpose without raising the question of how a belief in creation
relates to scientific attempts to understand origins – and especially how a
belief in creation relates to the theory of evolution. A wise man once said
that “the best way to approach a problem of any kind is usually not to talk
or even think very much about the ultimate answer until I have made sure that
I am asking all the right questions in the right order.”
So I’m not offering a definitive answer to the question of Creation
and Evolution. Instead, I’m going to provide a “rough guide” to the subject,
some advice about mistakes to avoid, and some suggestions about asking the right
questions in the right order.

My first piece of advice is to start at the very beginning, with just the
first five words of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created…” If
you need more words to get your teeth into, go to John 1:1-3: “In the beginning
was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God
in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was
made that has been made.” “Word” is a translation of the Greek term Logos,
from which we get the word logic. Logos is equivalent to what scientists
like Stephen Hawking mean when they talk about “knowing the Mind of God”. The
belief that Logos came first, that Mind created Matter, is the
fundamental theistic claim about creation, and this is the place to
start when considering the relationship between Creation and Evolution.

It’s important to keep in mind the distinction between the doctrine
of Creation, which is something all Christians hold in common, and different
pictures of creation that Christians hold because they have different
interpretations of Genesis. As Phillip Johnson reminds us: “The essential point
of creation has nothing to do with the timing or the mechanism the Creator chose
to employ, but with the element of design or purpose. In the broadest sense,
a “creationist” is simply a person who believes that the world (and especially
mankind) was designed, and exists for a purpose.”
The place to start thinking about Creation and evolution is with the
doctrine of Creation, because once you’ve worked that out, you are
in a better position to evaluate different Christian pictures of Creation.
In other words, your first question should be:

Question One: “Is the doctrine of Creation true?”

Plato noted that “all things do become, have become and will become, some
by nature, some by art, and some by chance” (The Laws, book X), and
he argued that either Mind comes before matter (and the world is basically a
work of art), or matter comes before mind (and the world is purely the result
of chance and natural regularities). The doctrine of Creation says that Mind
came before matter – the cosmos is a creation, a work of art. To be an atheist,
on the other hand, means being committed to a “matter first” view of things
– the cosmos is not a work of art, and everything must, therefore,
be the result of nothing but natural regularities and chance. Darwin’s theory
of evolution is an explanation of biological reality in terms of a finely balanced
combination of natural regularities and chance working over long periods of
time. You can see that for atheism, evolution is not so much the result of an
objective assessment of the evidence as it is a necessary assumption brought
to its interpretation. Geneticist Richard Lewontin has let this cat out of the

We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its
constructs… in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated
just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment to materialism. It is not
that the methods. . . of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation
of the. . . world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our… adherence
to material causes to create . . . a set of concepts that produce material explanations,
no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying…

“Moreover”, says Lewontin, “that materialism is absolute, for we cannot
allow a Divine foot in the door
…” 4
Lewontin’s rejection of the doctrine of Creation has nothing to do with science
and everything to do with his faith in materialism.

Richard Dawkins, Oxford University’s professor of the public understanding
of science, is quick to dismiss religious belief. He calls anyone advocating
a creator God ‘scientifically illiterate”.
Dawkins” most famous book is The Blind Watchmaker, the title
of which comes from William Paley’s design argument from the similarities between
the complex workings of a watch, which we know has a designer, and the complex
workings of nature, which by analogy probably have a designer too. Dawkins admits
that living things are analogous to watches, and that they appear to be designed.
He even defines biology as “the study of complicated things that give the appearance
of having been designed for a purpose.” 6
Why is Dawkins so confident that design in living things is only apparent? Because,
although the subtitle of The Blind Watchmaker is “Why the evidence
of evolution reveals a world without design”, Dawkins “excludes design on philosophical
grounds.” 7 “The kind of explanation we
come up with”, says Dawkins, “must not contradict the laws of physics. Indeed
it will make use of the laws of physics, and nothing more than the laws
of physics
.” 8 Here, as philosopher
William Dembski notes: “we are dealing with a naturalistic metaphysic that shapes
and controls what theories of biological origins are permitted on the playing
field in advance of any discussion or weighing of evidence.”
To approach biology without Dawkins” atheistic assumption doesn’t mean
ruling out evolution as an adequate, or even the best available, scientific
account of biology; but it does mean letting the evidence speak for itself.

Dawkins fudges the issue here. According to him, Paley was right about the
complexity of nature, but wrong about its explanation: “The only thing he got
wrong – admittedly quite a big thing – was the explanation itself. He gave the
traditional religious answer. . . The true explanation is utterly different,
and it had to wait for one of the most revolutionary thinkers of all time, Charles
Darwin.” 10 It’s crucial to realize that
Dawkins has just “pulled a fast one”. He has just implied that either
Paley was right to argue that nature is a work of art, or Darwin was
right to argue that biological organisms are the result of nature and chance.
But of course, this is a false dilemma. It’s possible that Paley and Darwin
are both right. The theist, no less than the atheist, can acknowledge the existence
of a “blind watchmaker”, simply by attributing that “blind watchmaker” itself
to God’s design!

Dawkins thinks that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled
atheist.” 11 Before Darwin was that there
was no naturalistic candidate for an explanation to fill in the blank labelled
blind watchmaker”. Evolution fills that blank. However, Dawkins is
wrong to think that evolution undermines Paley’s watchmaker argument, contradicts
belief in the doctrine of Creation, or supports atheism. Darwin’s theory may
fill in a blank created by the assumption of atheism, but that doesn’t prove
atheism (or evolution). Father Christmas may fill in a blank left by the assumption
that “parents don’t deliver Christmas presents”, but that hardly proves the
existence of Father Christmas!

The theory of evolution does not “reveal a world without design”
as Dawkins claims, because science is incapable of doing any such thing. Why
is the coffee getting hot? Scientific answer: because the flow of electrons
through the element in the kettle is causing the water molecules to vibrate.
But why is this happening? Because I want my coffee hot! This is an
explanation in terms of design and purpose, and it doesn’t conflict with the
scientific explanation. You don’t have to choose one explanation over the other.

Moreover, the fact that we can give a scientific description of the physical
mechanism of a kettle doesn’t disprove the existence of a kettle designer! Similarly,
a scientific description of a physical mechanism that results in living organisms
would not disprove the existence of a designer of that system. Science doesn’t
“reveal” a world without design, atheism demands a world without design.
The theory of evolution is irrelevant to the doctrine of Creation. As philosopher
Keith Ward says: “The argument that the evolutionary process is incompatible
with design misses the mark completely.” 12
I suggest that the next question on your agenda therefore ought to be:

Question Two: “If we don’t assume that matter came before mind, is
evolution an adequate explanation given all the available scientific evidence,
or is there a better explanation?”

Someone who believes in Creation can afford to be much more
open-minded about evolution than the atheist can be. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga

a Christian (naturally) believes that there is such a person as God, and
believes that God has created and sustains the world. Starting from this position…
we recognize that there are many ways in which God could have created the living
things he has in fact created: how, in fact, did he do it? …Did it all happen
just by way of the working of the laws of physics, or was there further divine
activity..? That’s the question… Starting from the belief in God, we must
look at the evidence and consider the probabilities as best we can.

Question two is an interesting and important question – but it isn’t a crucial
question for everyone to answer. You could quite happily be a Christian, or
become a Christian, without having an answer to this question.

Evolution may be a wholly adequate theory, a partially adequate theory, or
an inadequate theory, but the right way to find out – whether you believe in
the doctrine of creation or not – is to let the evidence speak for itself without
support from the assumption that the natural world must be able to
account for itself.

If you have decided your answers to our first two questions, you are now
in a good position to ask a third question:

Question Three: “Which picture of Creation is the most plausible one?”

This is an interesting and important question – but it isn’t a crucial question
for everyone to answer. You could quite happily be a Christian, or become a
Christian, without having an answer to this question. Christians certainly shouldn’t
elevate belief in any particular picture of Creation into anything more than
the peripheral issue that it is.

If you do pursue this question, there is no shortage of interpretations
you could adopt. In-between the extremes of a completely literal “young-earth”
creationism and an essentially non-literal creationism (often associated
with “theistic evolution”, but compatible with other theories), you might adopt
an essentially literal “old-earth” or “progressive” creationist interpretation.
But as Professor J.P. Moreland warns: “there are sufficient problems in interpreting
Genesis 1 and 2 to warrant caution in dogmatically holding that only one understanding
is allowable by the text.” 14

Giving a responsible (but non-dogmatic) answer to our third question involves
asking a whole bunch of subsidiary questions. As theologian David Winter explains:
“The phrase “The Bible says . . .” begs a lot of questions . . . What does
the Bible say? To whom is it saying it? What is the context, background and
literary form of the passage in question? Is it to be taken literally, or figuratively,
or allegorically?” 15 With Alvin Plantinga
I will merely say: “the proper understanding of the early chapters of Genesis
is a difficult area, an area where I am not sure where the truth lies.”
What I am sure of is that there can’t be any conflict between
God’s Word and God’s World, although there can be conflicts between incorrect
human understandings of Gods Word and God’s World. As Charles Hodge warned:
“Theologians are not infallible in the interpretation of Scripture.”
Nor are scientists infallible when they think about nature.

For anyone who believes in the doctrine of Creation, the fundamental question
is not “what is the best scientific account of reality” (let alone
“what is the best naturalistic account of reality”) but “what is
the best account of reality given everything we know?” This only seems
odd on the assumption that, as Richard Lewontin asserts, ‘science is the only
begetter of truth.” But of course, the claim that ‘science is the only begetter
of truth” isn’t something that science can establish as being true!
It’s a philosophical claim, and a self-contradictory one at that; in which case,
there must be more truth than can be known through science, and Christians are
right to seek to understand reality by employing what we think we know from
thinking about God’s Word as well as what we think we know from thinking about
God’s World. Our picture of creation (as distinct from the doctrine
of creation) is not the best place to start this project of integration, but
it shouldn’t be excluded from the process. To do so would be like a
jury deciding a murder case purely on the basis of the forensic evidence, without
taking into account the testimony of witnesses: “we cannot… pursue theology
without bringing to that study all that we know about the world, nor can we…
pursue science without bringing to that study all that we know about God”


Let’s go back to the beginning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through
him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
(John 1:1-3) This is the Christian doctrine of Creation: we are here
for a reason, life does have an objective purpose because – through
whatever means – God created us for a reason. But John goes on to tell us that:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory,
the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
(John 1:14) Whatever you make of the scientific merits of the theory of evolution,
and whatever you make of the relative merits of different pictures
of Creation, so long as the doctrine of Creation is true, then John
1:14 might be true as well. “Is it true that “the Word became flesh and made
his dwelling among us… full of grace and truth”?” is a question that trumps
all the other questions we’ve asked, because if it is true, it’s a truth that
dwarfs every other truth and which can change your life forever. Why? Because
it would mean that our purposer has personally come to us to tell us exactly
what the meaning and purpose of life is and to help us embrace it:
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

For references to this article, click here.

The Big Bad Wolf, Theism and the Foundations of Intelligent Design

by Peter S. Williams (MA, MPhil)

The man described as “Darwin’s Rotweiller”
(by supporter Charles Simonyi) has evolved to metaphorically resemble
the big bad wolf of nursery rhyme fame, and he is on a mission to liberate
the pigs (the analogy is mine, not his) from what he sees as their prisons
of straw. Indeed, Zoologist Richard Dawkins is so intent on blowing
down straw houses that he not only acknowledges the existence of firm
foundations that might be used for permanent constructions, but he fails
to notice that some of the pigs are building on just such a wolf-endorsed
foundation with bricks and mortar more than adequate to the task of
withstanding all his huffing and puffing.
Dawkins, who is Oxford University’s Professor for the Public Understanding
of Science, has been described as “materialistic, reductionist and overtly
Nevertheless, The God Delusion – which is descended by
design from Dawkins’ two-part television series The Root of all

– is Dawkins’ first book to make a direct attack upon religion
(especially theism, and most especially Christianity): “If this books
works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when
they put it down.”

Dawkins thinks that if his book fails to have the desired effect,
this can only be because “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads are immune to
argument, their resistance built up over years of childhood indoctrination
using methods [such as issuing] a dire warning to avoid even opening
a book like this, which is surely a work of Satan.”
On the other hand, anyone who is “open-minded”, whose “childhood
indoctrination was not too insidious… or whose native intelligence
is strong enough to overcome it”, will “need only a little encouragement
to break free of the vice of religion altogether.”

The God Delusion is certainly the work of a passionate and
rhetorically savvy writer capable of making good points against authoritarian
religious fundamentalism. For example, I wholeheartedly agree with Dawkins
about the hazards of illiberally encouraging an unbiblical blind

Teaching children that unquestioned faith is a
virtue primes them – given certain other ingredients that are not hard
to come by – to grow up into potentially lethal weapons for the future
jihads or crusades… If children were taught to question and think
through their beliefs, instead of being taught the superior virtue of
faith without question, it is a good bet that there would be no suicide

Likewise, I stand shoulder to shoulder with Dawkins in being appalled
at the un-Christ-like attitude displayed by many people who profess
to own the name of Christ. It is shameful that Dawkins can quote American
writer Ann Coulter saying: “I defy any of my co-religionists to tell
me they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell.”
I for one do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning
in hell (not that I think hell involves literal burning, and not that
I would presume to forecast Dawkins’ eternal destination). Coulter should
attend to the following verses of scripture: James 3:9-10, 1 Peter 3:15-16
and Luke 5:27-36. Dawkins ends his first chapter with the following
pledge: “I shall not go out of my way to offend, but nor shall I don
kid gloves to handle religion more gently that I would handle anything
Critics should extend Dawkins the same courtesy.

However, it would be an instance of kid glove donning not to note
that Dawkins simply doesn’t recognize when he is out of his philosophical
depth. Antony Latham is correct when he laments that “Dawkins clearly
has an inflated idea of his competence in metaphysics.”
And as Oxford theologian Alister McGrath comments:

Dawkins’ engagement with theology is superficial
and inaccurate, often amounting to little more than cheap point scoring…
His tendency to misrepresent the views of his opponents is the least
attractive aspect of his writings. It simply reinforces the perception
that he inhabits a hermetically sealed conceptual world, impervious
to a genuine engagement with religion.

Terry Eagleton passes similar comment in the London Review of

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose
only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds,
and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins
on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest
thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell,
are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate,
since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or
at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come
up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year
theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed
their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment
on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt
bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes
to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster…critics
of the richest, most enduring form of popular culture in human history
have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive,
rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it
as so much garbage and gobbledygook.

The God Delusion is liberally sprinkled with imaginary opponents
(“Here is the message that an imaginary “intelligent design theorist”
might broadcast…”
, “the following statement from an imaginary apologist…”
, “My imaginary religious apologist…”
, “Let’s invent an imaginary quotation from a moral philosopher…”
), as if Dawkins can’t be bothered to engaging with the real
opposition. Aside from an unfortunate determination to tackle straw
men, the most noteworthy and controversial aspect of Dawkins’ apologetic
is his support for the theoretical underpinnings of Intelligent
Design Theory. Most significantly, Dawkins makes it clear the intelligent
design is a scientific theory

No More NOMA

“I do have one thing in common with the creationists. Like me…
they will have no truck with NOMA and its separate magisteria.” – Richard

Dawkins asserts in the Preface of The God Delusion that:
“‘the God Hypothesis’ is a scientific hypothesis about the universe,
which should be analysed as sceptically as any other”
(including, presumably, Darwinian macro-evolution). He later
affirms, in broader terms, that:

The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence
is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice
– or not yet – a decided one… The methods we should use to settle
the matter, in the unlikely event that relevant evidence ever became
available, would be purely and entirely scientific methods.

Dawkins and intelligent design theorists are in full agreement upon
this latter point.

Dawkins defines science as simply: “the honest and systematic endeavour
to find out the truth about the real world.”
As design theorist Jay W. Richards states: “Methodological naturalism…
contradicts the true spirit of science, which is to seek the truth about
the natural world, no holds barred.”
Dawkins appears to use “science” as a term of endearment extending
to any critical investigation of the “real world” to which empirical
data has relevance, although as a metaphysical naturalist he assumes
that the “real world” is describable in exclusively naturalistic terms.
While ID theorists are careful not to allow a priori assumptions
to pre-determine the conclusions science reaches, and have followed
the lead of David Hume in distinguishing between conclusions that scientific
arguments can and cannot support without philosophical extension, Dawkins
is not so careful. Bearing these qualifications in mind, the design
theorist (especially the theistic design theorist) can welcome Dawkins’
affirmation that: “the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like
any other… God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about
the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice.”

In claiming that ID is a scientific theory Dawkins flatly contradicts
many critics – including physicist Lawrence Krauss, microbiologist Carl
Woese and philosopher Robert Pennock – who argue that intelligent design
theory is not a scientific hypothesis. In his Kitmiller v. Dover
opinion, Judge John E. Jones III wrote of “the inescapable conclusion
that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science.”
Dawkins disagrees. According to the American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU): “Intelligent design… falls outside the realm of
Dawkins disagrees. Austin Cline argues that: “Intelligent Design
isn’t a part of science.”
Dawkins disagrees.

A basic assumption of ID is that an intelligent agent is capable
of acting in such a way as to impress empirically detectable evidence
of design upon physical reality (this assumption underlies the day-to-day
work of many scientists, including archaeologists, cryptographers, forensic
scientists, paranormal researchers, conductors of double-blind prayer
studies and those engaged in the search for extra-terrestrial life).
A world in which God both exists and acts in such an empirically
detectable way
is therefore empirically distinguishable from a
world in which he does not. Dawkins has no truck with: “the erroneous
notion that the existence or non-existence of God is an untouchable
question, forever beyond the reach of science… Either he exists or
he doesn’t. It is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer,
and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability.”

Dawkins rejects Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of “non-overlapping magesteria”
(or NOMA) that:

The net, or magisterium of science covers the
empirical realm… The magisterium of religion extends over questions
of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap…
To cite the old clichés, science gets the age of rocks, and religion
the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how to
go to heaven.

Dawkins considers this an act of “bending over backwards to positively
supine lengths”
to avoid any possibility of conflict (or dialogue) between science
and religion. In order to stand any chance of mounting an attack on
religion with the sword of science, Dawkins first has to cut through
the shield of NOMA. The dialogue negating suggestion that science is
about “how” while religion is about “why” actually contains a grain
of truth (religion does deal with questions of meaning with which science
does not and cannot deal), but is too simplistic. As Dawkins says of
NOMA: “This sounds terrific – right up until you give it a moment’s
He dramatizes the point by imagining:

that forensic archaeologists unearthed DNA evidence
to show that Jesus really did lack a biological father. Can you imagine
religious apologists shrugging their shoulders and saying anything remotely
like the following? “Who cares? Scientific evidence is completely irrelevant
to theological questions. Wrong magisterium! We”re concerned only with
ultimate questions and with moral values. Neither DNA nor any other
scientific evidence could ever have any bearing on the matter, one way
or the other.” The very idea is a joke.

Real world religions make real world claims that therefore intersect
with the fields of inquiry handled by science.
As philosopher of science Stephen C. Meyer argues:

it’s inherent in the Christian faith to make claims
about the real world. According to the Bible, God has revealed himself
in time and space, and so Christianity – for good or ill – is going
to intersect some of the factual claims of history and science. There’s
either going to be conflict or agreement. To make NOMA work, its advocates
have to water down science or faith, or both. Certainly Gould did –
he said religion was just a matter of ethical teaching, comfort, or
metaphysical beliefs about meaning. But Christianity certainly claims
to be more than that.

For example, Dawkins observes that:

the alleged power of intercessory prayer is at
least in principle within the reach of science. A double-blind experiment
can be done and was done. It could have yielded a positive result. And
if it had, can you imagine a single religious apologist who would have
dismissed it on the grounds that scientific research has no bearing
on religious matters? Of course not.

Obviously, we can imagine a religious apologist who holds
such a view, but the basic point is well taken. Equally obviously, the
failure of a double blind study on prayer for healing to produce a positive
result does not count against either the God hypothesis or the hypothesis
that God sometimes answers prayer positively (it counts against the
hypothesis that God always answers prayer positively, but few
if any religious believers accepts such a hypothesis). Double blind
or not, one can’t constrain the variable of God’s willingness to “play
ball”. Absence of evidence for intelligent design is not automatically
evidence of absence of an intelligent designer (that depends upon whether
or not one has a good reason to expect to find evidence if the ultimate
object of one’s investigation were real). Magicians can randomly shuffle
their cards as well as stacking the deck. Failure to detect design in
the order of a pack of cards used by a magician does not disprove the
existence of either stacked decks or of magicians. Noticing that a pack
is ordered to perform a certain trick does, however, tip us off to the
existence of a magician. Likewise, a double blind study that did produce
a positive result would at the very least present the naturalist with
something to explain away. Dawkins references a Templeton Foundation
funded study of prayer for healing that failed to yield a positive result,
and comments:

Needless to say, the negative results of the experiment
will not shake the faithful. [It would be more accurate to state that
the study had a “null” result rather than a “negative” result.] Bob
Barth, the spiritual director of the Missouri prayer ministry which
supplied some of the experimental prayers, said: “A person of faith
would say that this study is interesting, but we’ve been praying a long
time and we’ve seen prayer work, we know it works, and the research
on prayer and spirituality is just getting started.” Yeah, right: we
know from our faith that prayer works, so if evidence fails to show
it we’ll just soldier on until finally we get the result we want.

It is unfortunate that Dawkins seeks to portray Barth as claiming
to know from un-evidenced faith that prayer can lead to real
world differences the very sentence after he quotes him claiming to
know from personal experience that prayer “works”. It is also
unfortunate that Dawkins fails to note that several other scientific
studies on prayer have reported positive results.
A systematic review of the efficacy of distant healing published
in 2000 concluded that: “approximately 57% (13 of 23) of the randomised,
placebo-controlled trials of distant healing… showed a positive treatment
For example:

Dr [Randolf] Byrd divided 393 heart patients into
two groups. One was prayed for by Christians; the other did not receive
prayers from study participants. Patients didn’t know which group they
belonged to. The members of the group that was prayed for experienced
fewer complications, fewer cases of pneumonia, fewer cardiac arrests,
less congestive heart failure and needed fewer antibiotics.

Dr Dale Matthews documents how volunteers prayed for selected patients
with rheumatoid arthritis: “To avoid a possible placebo effect from
knowing they were being prayed for, the patients were not told which
ones were subjects of the test. The recovery rate among those prayed
for was measurably higher than among a control group, for which prayers
were not offered.”
Such results are of course far from being conclusive verification
of the efficacy of prayer for healing, but they do show that Dawkins
fails to grapple with the full range of available data on this subject.
Moreover, it is worth noting that such studies assume that a
statistically significant (i.e. sufficiently unlikely) match with specified
beneficial health outcomes would be evidence for the efficacy of prayer,
and are therefore another example of the scientific utility of specified

Although Dawkins rightly rejects the overly simplistic NOMA principle,
it is harder to attack religion using science than Dawkins thinks, because
there is no simple move from “null” results to “negative” results, from
absence of evidence for design to the absence of a designer. Nevertheless,
religious claims can be framed in falsifiable terms, and many religious
claims are framed in such terms. For example, the claim that Jesus rose
bodily from the grave entails that Christianity could in principle be
falsified by digging up the right body. The claim that Mary was a virgin
when she gave birth could be falsified by digging up the right sort
of historical documentation (a denial of the story written by Mary herself
would do quite nicely). Unfortunately for Dawkins, when it comes to
the question of origins, absence of evidence for intelligent design
(from biochemistry for example) cannot be considered evidence for the
absence of an intelligent designer, any more than the null result of
one prayer study can be used to falsify theism. However, just as positive
results concerning prayer should at least be of concern to a naturalist
like Dawkins, so evidence for intelligent design (from biochemistry
for example) should be of concern to him. If naturalism is true, some
sort of evolutionary explanation must be true. If theism is true then
there exists a supernatural creator who may or may not have arranged
one or more aspects of creation after a manner that provides detectable
evidence of intelligent design. As Alvin Plantinga writes:

a Christian (naturally) believes that there is
such a person as God, and believes that God has created and sustains
the world. Starting from this position… we recognize that there are
many ways in which God could have created the living things he has in
fact created: how, in fact, did he do it? …Did it all happen just
by way of the working of the laws of physics, or was there further divine
activity..? That’s the question… Starting from the belief in God,
we must look at the evidence and consider the probabilities as best
we can.

Contrast the intellectual freedom of scientific investigation to
follow the evidence under a theistic worldview with the a priori
constraints imposed upon the interpretation of empirical evidence by
a naturalistic worldview, as candidly revealed by geneticist Richard
Lewontin: “It is not that the methods… of science somehow compel us
to accept a material explanation of the… world, but, on the contrary,
that we are forced by our… adherence to material causes to create…
a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how
counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying…”
The a priori constraint of naturalism often results
in its adherents engaging in arguments (often under the guise of “science”)
that beg the question. As Darwinist Michael Ruse admits: “I think that
philosophically one should be sensitive to what I think history shows,
namely, that evolution… involves making certain a priori or metaphysical
assumptions, which at some level cannot be proven empirically.”
For example, Dawkins asserts that “Creative intelligences, being
evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot
be responsible for designing it.”
However, even if every known creative intelligence were demonstrably
evolved late comers in the universe, this fact would provide no inferential
scientific justification for the conclusion that any and all creative
intelligences are “necessarily” evolved late arrivals in the
universe that “therefore cannot be responsible for designing it”. This
conclusion is one that must be deduced from the conclusion
that naturalism is true.

In 2005 online magazine “Edge The World Question Centre
posed the following question to a number of scientific intellectuals:
“What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?” Dawkins
revealingly answered: “I believe that all life, all intelligence, all
creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe, is the direct
or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that
design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution.
Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.”
Hence, while Dawkins thinks he can prove that evolution accounts
for all life, intelligence, creativity and (crucially) all design
on earth, he admits he cannot prove that it accounts for
all life, intelligence, creativity and design in the universe.
Therefore, whatever we make of evolution as an explanation of life on
earth, we need to recognize that only from the unproven generalisation
that evolution accounts for all life, intelligence, creativity
and design in the universe, does it follow that “Creative intelligences…
arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for
designing it.”
Indeed, that particular conclusion only follows from the premise
that evolution must (rather than does) account for
all life, intelligence, creativity and design in the universe. Such
an a priori assertion is clearly metaphysical in nature rather
than scientific, since it amounts to the assumption that God does not
exist. It seems, then, that Dawkins believes that evolution must
explain any and all “design” in the universe, and that there is no divine
designer, because he believes that God does not exist. As Phillip
E. Johnson argues: “Darwinism is the answer to a specific question that
grows out of philosophical naturalism… The question is: How must creation
have occurred if we assume that God had nothing to do with it?”
Answering this question is not at all the same as answering
this question: “How did creation occur?” As Thomas Woodward

ID scientists never prejudge in detecting
design. They never assume design; design must be positively detected,
by analysing evidence and passing rigorous tests. Darwinism is different.
It is profoundly theological in its basic operating rules, in that it
lays down an assured truth – an axiom that amounts to a religious
catechism. It is this catechism then that serves as a starting point.
The Darwinian catechism states that when scrutinizing complex living
systems, one can rest assured that scientific evidence and logic can
never lead one to conclude that there was an intelligent cause behind
life… Evolutionary biology, by limiting itself exclusively to material
mechanisms, has settled in advance the question of which biological
explanations are true, apart from any consideration of the empirical
evidence. This is armchair philosophy.

Specified Complexity & Little Green Men

Discussing the scientific search for extra-terrestrial life, Dawkins

It is a non-trivial question, by the way, what
kind of signal would convince us of its intelligent origin. A good approach
is to turn the question around. What should we intelligently do in order
to advertise our presence to extraterrestrial listeners? Rhythmic pulses
wouldn’t do it… Metronomic rhythms can be generated by many non-intelligent
phenomena… Nothing simply rhythmic, then, would announce our intelligent
presence to the waiting universe.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell first discovered the pulsar in 1967 and “was
moved by the precision of its 1.33-second periodicity to name it, tongue
in cheek, the LGM (Little Green Men) signal. She later found a second
pulsar, elsewhere in the sky and of a different periodicity, which pretty
much disposed of the LGM hypothesis.”
The regular, specified but uncomplicated pattern of a pulsar
does not require an explanation in terms of intelligent design. Neither,
of course, does the irregular, unspecified complexity of static. So
what sort of signal would do the job? As design theorist William A.
Dembski argues, it is one that is both complex and specified.
According to Dawkins: “Prime numbers are often mentioned as the
recipe of choice, since it is difficult to think of a purely physical
process that could generate them.”
Dawkins affirms, then, that there is a type of pattern, in principle
discoverable by empirical, scientific investigation, for which it is
difficult to account in purely physical terms and which would rightly
trigger a design inference. In this, he agrees with design theorists.
As Dembski writes:

Intelligent design studies the effects of intelligence
in the world. Many special sciences already fall under intelligent design,
including archaeology, cryptography, forensics, and SETI (the Search
for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Intelligent design is thus already
part of science. Moreover, it employs well-defined methods for detecting
intelligence. These methods together with their application constitute
the theory of intelligent design [this is ID in the broad sense]. The
question, therefore, is not whether intelligent design constitutes a
genuine scientific theory but whether, as a scientific theory, it properly
applies to biology [this is ID in the narrow sense]. Indeed, the only
place where intelligent design is controversial is biology (even physicists
are now comfortable talking about the design of the universe).

Dawkins also re-affirms his belief that: “Whether we ever get to
know about them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations
that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed
anything a theologian could possibly imagine.”
(Dawkins cannot, therefore, exclude a priori the possibility
that intelligent design is a true hypothesis when it comes to accounting
for life on earth.) Dawkins has a low opinion of theology: “The notion
that religion is a proper field, in which one might claim expertise,
is one that should not go unquestioned… there is no evidence to support
theological opinions either way… I have yet to see any good reason
to suppose that theology (as opposed to biblical history, literature,
etc.) is a subject at all.”
Of course, theology includes biblical history, literature,
etc. What Dawkins seems to mean, is that systematic or
theology is not a real subject in which one might
claim expertise, since there is no relevant empirical evidence to master.
Even granting for the sake of argument that proper subjects require
empirical evidence, whether or not Dawkins is right about “theology”
being a non-subject would seem to depend upon whether or not naturalism
is true, a question to which, in a NOMA free world, evidence may certainly
be relevant (especially if we reject a self-contradictory scientism
by refusing to restrict the meaning of “evidence” to “empirical evidence”).

ID is a Scientific Theory

Dawkins applies his rejection of NOMA to the questions at the heart
of both ID and Christianity:

The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence
is unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice
– or not yet – a decided one. So also is the truth or falsehood of every
one of the miracle stories that religions rely upon to impress multitudes
of the faithful. Did Jesus have a human father, or was his mother a
virgin at the time of his birth? Whether or not there is enough surviving
evidence to decide it, this is still a strictly scientific question
with a definite answer in principle: yes or no. Did Jesus raise Lazarus
from the dead? Did he himself come alive again, three days after being
crucified? There is an answer to every such question, whether or not
we can discover it in practice, and it is a strictly scientific answer.
The methods we should use to settle the matter, in the unlikely event
that relevant evidence ever became available, would be purely and entirely
scientific methods.

Dawkins’ critique of Christianity, like his critique of ID, is that
the evidence does not support it. He asserts:

Christianity was founded by Paul of Tarsus…
The historical evidence that Jesus claimed any sort of divine status
is minimal… Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians
have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts
of what happened in the history of the real world. All were written
long after the death of Jesus, and also after the epistles of Paul,
which mention almost none of the alleged facts of Jesus’ life. All were
then copied and recopied, through many different “Chinese Whispers generations”…
by fallible scribes who, in any case, had their own religious agendas…
The four gospels that made it into the official cannon were chosen,
more or less arbitrarily, out of a larger sample of at least a dozen…
Nobody knows who the four evangelists were, but they almost certainly
never met Jesus personally. Much of what they wrote was in no sense
an honest attempt at history… It is even possible to mount a serious,
though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived
at all… Although Jesus probably existed, reputable bible scholars
do not in general regard the New Testament (and obviously not the Old
Testament) as a reliable record of what actually happened in history…

Dawkins’ attack upon the historical reliability of the bible, which
draws upon scholars like agnostic Bart Ehrman (who follows Hume in proposing
that miracle claims cannot in principle be supported by evidence
), constitutes a “greatest hits” of the sort of claim I expect
to hear from students who have uncritically lapped up philosophically
outdated and sceptical treatments of scripture that confirm their prejudices.
Plenty of scholars would take issue with Dawkins’ opinions concerning
the reliability of the bible, on evidential grounds.

There is an apparent contradiction between Dawkins’ NOMA-rejecting
support for the idea that miracle claims can in principle be settled
one way or the other by scientific evidence, and his assertion that
“miracles, by definition, violate the principles of science.”
Responding to the latter claim, William Lane Craig writes:

natural laws assume that no other natural or supernatural
factors are interfering with the operation of that the laws describes…
The law of gravity states what will happen under idealized conditions
with no natural or supernatural factors intervening. Catching the apple
doesn’t overturn the law of gravity or require the formulation of a
new law. It’s merely the intervention of a person with free will who
overrides the natural causes operative in that particular circumstances.
And that, essentially, is what God does when he causes a miracle to

In other words, using scientific laws to argue against theism is
guilty of begging the question. Dawkins might escape the charge of begging
the question, and of contradicting his argument that miracles can in
principle be verified by science, if it were not for his assertion that
educated Christians today know that miracle claims are, not merely
unsupported or even falsified by scientific evidence,
but rationally absurd:

The nineteenth century is the last time when it
was possible for an educated person to admit to believing in miracles
like the virgin birth without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated
Christians today are too loyal to deny the virgin birth and the resurrection.
But it embarrasses them because their rational minds know it is absurd,
so they would much rather not be asked.

In Dawkins’ world it is evidently a sound critique to simply
that educated people professing allegiance to a belief are
so caught up in the spirit of the age that they are embarrassed when
pressed upon the subject because “their rational minds know it is absurd”.
(I wonder how far I can get by asserting: “The twentieth century
is the last time when it was possible for an educated person to admit
to believing in naturalistic theories of mind, such as that “thoughts
and emotions emerge from exceedingly complex interactions of physical
entities within the brain,”
without embarrassment. When pressed, many educated naturalists
are too loyal to deny such theories. But it embarrasses them because
their rational minds know it is absurd, so they would much rather not
be asked”?)

Dawkins obviously knows me better than myself since, despite being
well educated, I was strangely unaware of knowing that believing in
the resurrection embarrassed me before reading Dawkins’ assertion to
the contrary. Indeed, I am still unaware of knowing any such thing and
protest that I am not embarrassed to profess belief in miracles, including
the virgin birth and the resurrection. As Alvin Plantinga writes:

Very many well-educated people (including even
some theologians) understand science and history in a way that is entirely
compatible both with the possibility and with the actuality of miracles.
Many physicists and engineers, for example, understand “electrical light
and the wireless” vastly better than Bultmann or his contemporary followers,
but nonetheless hold precisely those New Testament beliefs Bultmann
thinks incompatible with using electric lights and radios… As a matter
of historical fact, there are any number of contemporaries, and contemporary
intellectuals very well acquainted with science who don’t feel any problem
at all in pursuing science and also believing in miracles, angels, Christ’s
resurrection, the lot.

The crucial point here, at least for present purposes, is the point
on which Christians agree with Dawkins (even if Dawkins himself
is inconsistent upon the matter): When it comes to religious claims
about history, it really does matter what the evidence is.
I take a different view than Dawkins on the historical reliability of
scripture, not because I have a religious faith that brooks no argument,
but because I think I can better his claims on the shared ground of
rational engagement with the data.

When we come to examine pre-history, Dawkins states:

A universe in which we are alone except for other
slowly evolved intelligences is a very different universe from one with
an original guiding agent whose intelligent design is responsible for
its very existence. I accept that it may not be so easy in practice
to distinguish one kind of universe from the other. Nevertheless, there
is something utterly special about the hypothesis of ultimate design,
and equally special about the only known alternative: gradual evolution
in the broad sense. They are close to being irreconcilably different.
[In which case they are not irreconcilably different.] Like
nothing else, evolution [if it can do everything Dawkins thinks
it can do, which many ID theorists question] really does provide an
explanation for the existence of entities whose improbability would
otherwise, for practical purposes, rule them out [absent intelligent
design that is].

While there is an obvious relation between the question of “a creative
super-intelligence” and the question of a supernatural creator, they
are equally obviously not one and the same question. Evidence for the
latter is necessarily evidence for the former, but not vice versa. To
move from the former to the latter requires philosophical extension.
The theist holds a doctrine of creation that does not demand scientific
evidence of intelligent design, but which can welcome such evidence
if it exists. The naturalists holds a doctrine of non-creation that
precludes any scientific evidence of design unless it is accounted for
by reference to some naturalistically acceptable designer (such as Dawkins’
god-like but nevertheless evolved aliens); something it is progressively
harder to do the more widespread and the more fundamental the evidence
for design is shown to be. According to Dawkins, “there is no evidence
to favour the God Hypothesis.”
I disagree (Dawkins’ laughable treatment of natural theology
appears to be that of someone who cannot be bothered to seriously engage
with the subject). However, the crucial point here is the point on which
ID theorists (whether or not they believe in God) agree with
Dawkins: “A universe in which we are alone except for other slowly evolved
intelligences is a very different universe from one with an original
guiding agent whose intelligent design is responsible for its very existence.”
Indeed, such a universe is sufficiently different that the difference
might be empirically detectable.

Irreducible Complexity

“We believe in evolution because the evidence supports it, and we
would abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to disprove it.” –
Richard Dawkins

In discussing and dismissing the argument for intelligent design
from irreducible complexity, Dawkins quixotically dissects examples
from a book with no named author, published by the Jehovah Witness’
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, entitled Life – How Did It Get
Dawkins easily blows away the argument that since the insect-trapping
and purportedly “irreducibly complex” plant Aristolochia trilobata
(Dutchman’s Pipe) could not have happened “by chance” it therefore must
have been intelligently designed. Of course, as Dawkins points out:
“Design is not the only alternative to chance. Natural selection is
a better alternative.”
But such straw man bating is simply a red herring that avoids
serious engagement with the far more sophisticated arguments of Intelligent
Design theorists proper.

When Dawkins finally gets around to defining irreducible complexity,
he summarizes the concept in his own words as follows: “A functioning
unit is said to be irreducibly complex if the removal of one of its
parts causes the whole to cease functioning.”
This unreferenced definition is an oversimplification of irreducible
complexity as defined by the originator of the phrase, biochemist Michael
J. Behe. Behe’s most notable presentation of irreducible complexity
is Darwin’s Black Box: the Biochemical Challenge to Evolution
(1996/2006), where he defined irreducible complexity as follows: “By
irreducibly complex I mean a single system composed of several
well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to basic function, wherein
the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively
cease functioning.”

To propose that a system (such as the flagellum) is irreducibly complex
(IC) is not to argue for design by definition, but to lay the foundation
for an inference to design from uniform experience. Behe observes that
if a system is IC then it is impossible to evolve that system via a
direct evolutionary pathway: “An irreducibly complex system
cannot be produced directly… by slight, successive modifications of
a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex
system that is missing a part is by definition non-functional.”
Behe admits that: “although irreducible complexity does rule
out direct routes, it does not automatically rule out indirect ones.”
However, he argues that the more complex the IC system in question
is (i.e. the more necessary parts it contains): “the more unlikely the
indirect routes become.”
Behe does not move directly from the unlikelihood of
an evolutionary explanation of an IC system to the hypothesis of intelligent
design. Rather, he notes that:

irreducibly complex systems such as mousetraps
and flagella serve both as negative arguments against gradualistic explanations
like Darwin’s and as positive arguments for design. The negative argument
is that such interactive systems resist explanation by the tiny steps
that a Darwinian path would be expected to take [because direct routes
are impossible and indirect routes unlikely]. The positive argument
is that their parts appear arranged to serve a purpose, which is exactly
how we detect design.

Hence Behe defends his argument against the charge that it is an
argument “from present ignorance”:

there is a structural reason – irreducible
complexity – for thinking that Darwinian explanations are unlikely to
succeed. Furthermore… irreducible complexity is a hallmark of intelligent
design… Truncating my case for intelligent design and then saying
I commit the fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantium is not, in
my opinion, fair play.

Dawkins fleetingly mentions Behe, but only to label him (inaccurately)
as “the creationist Michael Behe… credited (if credited is the word)
with moving creationism into a new area of biology: biochemistry and
cell biology…”
Behe, the primary source of the argument Dawkins is opposing,
apparently does not merit a single quotation by Dawkins (he’d rather
dissect a popular work by an anonymous creationist), even when he critiques
Behe’s most famous example: the bacterial flagellum. (Dawkins writes
that the flagellum is “happily described as a tiny outboard motor –
and unusually for a biological mechanism – it is a spectacularly inefficient
However, the flagellum has an energy conversion efficiency “close
to 100%”
and Japanese scientists have studied it with the aim of producing
energy saving nanotechnology
; so it seems that Dawkins has his facts wrong.)

Dawkins dismisses “The absurd notion that such complexity could spontaneously
self-assemble” but asserts that “Evolution… goes around the back of
[Mount Improbable] and creeps up the gentle slope to the summit: easy!”
Anyone familiar with the contemporary ID debate should know that
such a response is far too “easy”; if a system is IC then it cannot
evolve “directly” round the back of Mount Improbable and is unlikely
to evolve “indirectly” up the back of Mount Improbable. Dawkins
the existence of a statistically plausible, indirect graded
ramp up the back of Mount Improbable from the naturalistic assumption
that evolution must be true; but as Danish philosopher Jokob Wolf observes:

An explanation of the evolution of an organism
is scientifically adequate only if it is able to account for all the
incremental steps required for the building of the system. These steps
must be so small that their probability can be calculated. Which means
that you should actually be able to quantify the probability of every
small step, and so prove that it is reasonably probable that it constitutes
a step on the evolutionary ladder. You also have to be able to prove
that each step presents an advantage to the organism. Currently, there
exist no Darwinian explanations of e.g. the bacterial flagellum which
satisfy these criteria… Darwinian accounts purporting to account for
the emergence of very complex systems are primarily expressions of the
hope that the evolution of these systems is explainable by appeal to
the Darwinian mechanism. They are wishful speculations.

Cell biologist Franklin Harold admits that “there are presently no
detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical or cellular
system, only a variety of wishful speculations.”

Dawkins simplifies things for himself by expanding his over-simplified
definition of irreducible complexity to include a requirement that
no parts of an IC system have any function outside of the IC whole to
which they contribute
(something that is easier to get away with
having failed to quote Behe’s own definition of irreducible complexity).
Behe does not assume that an IC system is one in which the
components of the system have no independent function. However, attributing
this assumption to Behe allows Dawkins to follow Kenneth Miller in blithely
dispatching Behe’s argument simply by pointing to the existence of the
Type III secretory system:

molecular biologists have no difficulty in finding
parts functioning outside the whole… In the case of the bacterial
rotary engine, Millar calls our attention to a mechanism called the
Type Three Secretory System or TTSS… To the evolutionist it is clear
that TTSS components were commandeered for a new, but not wholly unrelated,
function when the flagellar motor evolved.

However, Behe’s argument for design allows for the fact that the
separate components of an irreducibly complex system may exhibit independent
functionality: “there’s no reason that individual components of an irreducibly
complex system could not be used for separate roles, or multiple separate
roles, and I never wrote that they couldn’t.”
As Behe comments in a review of Dawkins’ previous book (The
Ancestor’s Tale

Miller’s argument is that because the flagellum
is more complex than we thought, that because it can act both as a protein
pump as well as an outboard motor, then it is not irreducible. If the
motor gets broken, remaining pieces may still act as a pump. That’s
like arguing that because, in addition to wheels and a motor, a car
has a fuel pump, then it isn’t irreducible either. If the tires are
flat, the fuel pump can still work. Therefore we can imagine that the
car could have been put together in small random steps. Such is the
rigor of Darwinian thought.

Moreover, William A. Dembski points out that: “At best the TTSS represents
one possible step in the indirect Darwinian evolution of the bacterial
flagellum. What’s needed is a complete evolutionary path and not merely
a possible oasis along the way. To claim otherwise is like saying we
can travel by foot from Los Angeles to Tokyo because we”ve discovered
the Hawaiian Islands.”
And as Franklin Howard urges: “we must concede that there are
presently no detailed Darwinian accounts of the evolution of any biochemical
Two final points nail shut the coffin of the TTSS scenario. The
first is that: “The type III system itself is [IC], perhaps with ten
IC components.”
The second is that the best current molecular evidence: “points
to the TTSS evolving from the flagellum and not vice versa.”
As the eminent Yale biochemist Robert Macnab wrote with reference
to the TTSS and the flagellum in the Annual Review of Microbiology
2003: “nature has found two good uses for this sophisticated type of
apparatus. How they evolved is another matter, although it has been
proposed that the flagellum is the more ancient device…”
Thomas Woodward explains why:

the flagellum is likely to have historically
preceded the TTSS
. This is indicated since the TTSS is found in
gram negative bacteria that seem to have appeared in a later
era, when more advanced kinds of cells called eukaryotes had
appeared. These gram negative bacteria with TTSS injectors don’t hassle
other prokaryotes – bacterial life-forms. In essence, the current
best evidence indicates that a flagellum devolved… into a tiny subsystem,
the TTSS injector pump.

Despite his confidence that the flagellum easily evolved up some
graded ramp or other up the back of Mount Improbable, Dawkins admits
that when it comes to giving an evolutionary account of the flagellum:
“A lot more work needs to be done, of course…”
In other words, Dawkins can’t meet the burden of proof involved
in empirically demonstrating the existence of a statistically plausible
“indirect” evolutionary path up the back of Mount Improbable for the
bacterial flagellum; he can only deduce the existence of such a route
from the fact that the flagellum exists and the philosophical assumption
that it cannot have come into existence by intelligent design.

In the final analysis, what is most significant about Dawkins’ discussion
of irreducible complexity is not that he disagrees with Behe’s conclusions,
or that he justifies his disagreement by carelessly miss-defining Behe’s
central concept; or that he prefers to interact with “an imaginary intelligent
design theorist”
than a real one; but rather that Dawkins agrees with Behe
that the concept of irreducible complexity is a testable scientific
hypothesis that constitutes a critical test of Darwin’s theory of evolution

Maybe there is something out there in nature that
really does preclude, by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth
gradient of Mount Improbable. The creationists are right that, if genuinely
irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck
Darwin’s theory. Darwin himself said as much… genuine irreducible
complexity would wreck Darwin’s theory if it were ever found…

Dawkins and the Anthropic Principle

Dawkins notes that theologians who demure from arguments concerning
“flagellar motors and immune systems”
may nevertheless advance arguments from “the origin of life”
because “The root of evolution in non-biological chemistry somehow
seems to present a bigger gap than any particular transition during
subsequent evolution.”
Dawkins himself questions this assumption, noting that Mark Ridley
“has suggested that the origin of the eukaryotic cell (our kind of cell,
with a nucleus and various other complicated features such as mitochondria,
which are not present in bacteria) was an even more momentous, difficult
and statistically improbable step than the origin of life.”

Dawkins also suggests that “The origin of consciousness might be
another major gap whose bridging was of the same order of improbability.”
Together with a growing number of scholars (David Chalmers notes
that “at least three prominent materialists who have abandoned the view
in the last few years”
), I would question Dawkins’ assumption that the quantitative
concept of physical improbability is applicable to the origin of a reality
of such qualitative difference. Dawkins notes that “Perceived
hues – what philosophers call qualia – have no intrinsic connection
with lights of particular wavelengths”
, but he fails to even ask whether the very existence of qualia
and their reliable correlation with physical realities might not pose
problems for a naturalistic worldview.

Nevertheless, the supposed spontaneous origin of life from inorganic
chemistry does represent a significant and improbable historical change,
and one that cannot be addressed in terms of evolution by natural selection,
for as Dawkins notes: “The origin of life was the chemical event, or
series of events, whereby the vital conditions for natural selection
first came about.”
Dawkins’ handles the improbability of jumping the gap between
chemistry and the specified complexity of life by stating: “The origin
of life only had to happen once. We can therefore allow it to have been
an extremely improbable event, many orders of magnitude more improbable
than most people realize…”
Dawkins then introduces the anthropic principle:

The anthropic principle was named by the British
mathematician Brandon Carter in 1974 and expanded by the physicists
John Barrow and Frank Tipler in their book on the subject. The anthropic
argument is usually applied to the cosmos, and I’ll come to that. But
I’ll introduce the idea on a smaller, planetary scale. We exist here
on Earth. Therefore, Earth must be the kind of planet that is capable
of generating and supporting us, however unusual, even unique, that
kind of planet might be.

Already, at this early stage, we need to sound several notes of caution.
The fact that we exist does indeed entail that our planet is in
the kind of planet capable of supporting us, however unusual
(i.e. unlikely) that kind of planet may be. However, it does not entail
that earth must be the kind of planet that is capable of supporting
us if “must be” is understood to mean that it is a necessary rather
than a contingent truth that a life-friendly planet exists. Moreover,
the mere fact that we exist on planet earth does not entail that earth
is (let alone must be) “capable of generating” our existence. To reach
that conclusion one would have to accept the question-begging
premise that our existence is not specifically dependent upon intelligent

Dawkins writes that “Around a typical star like our sun, there is
a so-called Goldilocks zone – not too hot and not too cold, but just
right – for planets with liquid water [a pre-requisite of life].”
In the very next paragraph Dawkins contradicts his incorrect
statement that the sun is “a typical star”, noting that “Our sun is
unusual in not being a binary, locked in mutual orbit with a companion
Dawkins is right about both the unusual nature of our sun and
about the existence of a so-called Goldilocks zone that the earth happily

The sun is not a typical star; 95 percent of all
stars are less massive than the sun. Less massive stars are less luminous,
and thus a planet would have to be very close to the star to stay warm.
But being close to the star is dangerous because of tidal effects. Also,
at close distances the rotation of the planet becomes locked so that
one side always faces the star… This rotational lock causes one side
of the planet to freeze, the other side to burn. Stars much larger than
the sun have life spans too short for life to occur. It is estimated
that 70 percent of all stars are binary or multiple stars. Binary or
multiple stars contain two or more stars orbiting each other. Stable
planetary orbits are hard to imagine in such systems… A planet such
as Venus, located closer to the sun than the habitable zone, would become
too hot for life. A planet such as Mars, located farther from the sun
than the habitable zone, would become too cold for life. With the earth
at a distance from the sun of 1.0 AU (1 A.U equals 93 million miles),
the width of the sun’s habitable zone is from 0.95 AU to 1.15 AU. Thus,
the habitable zone for the sun is very narrow.

There are, observes Dawkins, two main explanations that have been
offered “for our planet’s peculiar friendliness to life. The design
theory says that God made the world, placed it in the Goldilocks zone,
and deliberately set up all the details for our benefit.”
Of course, ID does not say that God is necessarily
the culprit, for the simple reason that to specify the designer requires
further evidence than provided by evidence of intelligent design. Neither
design theorists nor theists (and the two groups overlap without being
identical) would necessarily argue that the designer set up all
the details of planet earth, or did so solely for human
benefit. But what of the alternative explanation? Bizarrely, according
to Dawkins, the alternative non-design explanation is the anthropic
principle itself

The anthropic approach is very different… The
great majority of planets in the universe are not in the Goldilocks
zones of their respective stars, and are not suitable for life. None
of that majority has life. However small the minority of planets with
just the right conditions for life may be, we necessarily have to be
on one of that minority, because here we are thinking about it. It is
a strange fact, incidentally, that religious apologists love the anthropic
principle. For some reason that makes no sense at all, they think it
supports their case. Precisely the opposite is true. The anthropic principle,
like natural selection, is an alternative to the design hypothesis.
It provides a rational, design-free explanation for the fact that we
find ourselves in a situation propitious to our existence. I think the
confusion arises in the religious mind because the anthropic principle
is only ever mentioned in the context of the problem it solves, namely
the fact that we live in a life-friendly place. What the religious mind
then fails to grasp is that two candidate solutions are offered to the
problem. God is one. The anthropic principle is the other. They are

However, the “problem” that needs to be solved is not “the
fact that we live in a life friendly place”
as Dawkins says (given our existence we obviously could not
exist in a life unfriendly place), but rather the fact that a life
friendly place exists
. The anthropic principle “provides a rational,
design-free explanation for the fact that we find ourselves in a situation
propitious to our existence”
, but it does not provide an explanation of any kind for the
question as to why a situation propitious to our existence should exist
in the first place. Dawkins is probably right to say that, “There are
billions of planets in the universe, and, however small the minority
of evolution-friendly planets may be, our planet necessarily has to
be one of them”
, but this anthropic observation has no bearing on
explaining why an evolution-friendly planet exists. As Woodward explains,
“the name anthropic principle is brought in as a quasi-synonym for fine-tuning.”
When this quasi-synonymic substitution happens, as it happens
in The God Delusion, one obviously cannot appeal to the “anthropic
principle” to explain “fine tuning”. That would be like trying to use
the concept of “bachelors” to explain the existence of unmarried men!
This, in effect, is precisely what Dawkins attempts to do.

Back to Abiogenesis

Dawkins returns to the question of abiogenesis:

the spontaneous arising by chance of the first
hereditary molecule strikes many as improbable. Maybe it is – very very
improbable… The origin of life is a flourishing, if speculative, subject
for research. The expertise required for it is chemistry and it is not
mine. I watch from the sidelines with engaged curiosity, and I shall
not be surprised if, within the next few years, chemists report that
they have successfully midwifed a new origin of life in the laboratory.
Nevertheless it hasn’t happened yet, and it is still possible to maintain
that the probability of it happening is, and always was, exceedingly
low – although it did happen once! Just as we did with the Goldilocks
orbits, we can make the point that, however improbable the origin of
life might be, we know it happened on Earth because we are here. Again…
there are two hypotheses to explain what happened – the design hypothesis
and the… “anthropic” hypothesis.

Many of those with the expertise Dawkins admits to lacking are not
so confident. For example, Robert Shapiro writes:

A profound difficulty exists… with the idea
of RNA, or any other replicator, at the start of life. Existing replicators
can serve as templates for the synthesis of additional copies of themselves,
but this device cannot be used for the preparation of the very first
such molecule, which must arise spontaneously from an unorganized mixture.
The formation of an information-bearing [RNA chain or equivalent] through
undirected chemical synthesis appears very improbable.

According to biochemist Stuart Pullen:

The hypothesis [of abiogenesis] is found
in almost all biology books where it is put forth as the generally accepted
theory. Yet in the scientific journals, scientists routinely dismiss
many aspects of the hypothesis as highly improbable… When it comes
to chemical evolution and the origin of life, science just doesn’t have
the answer… While several amino acids can be created under plausible
conditions, proteins cannot be… many biologists mistakenly believe
that it is quite easy to synthesize all of the required biological molecules.
Nevertheless, a quick review of the relevant literature reveals that
this is not true.

Having restudied this evidence, Nobel laureate Richard Smalley recently
affirmed that life must have been created by an intelligence.
The hypothesis that life sprang from non-life without the aid
of intelligent design, as Dawkins’ comments make clear, is a philosophical
deduction entailed by the assumption of naturalism
. It is, as Shapiro
writes: “mythology rather than science”.
Dawkins contradicts his incoherent assertion that the alternative
to the “design hypothesis” is the anthropic principle:

the anthropic alternative to the design hypothesis
is statistical. Scientists invoke the magic of large numbers… a billion
billion is a concervative estimate of the number of available planets
in the universe. Now, suppose the origin of life, the spontaneous arising
of something equivalent to DNA, really was a quite staggeringly improbable
event…. If the odds of life originating spontaneously on a planet
were a billion to one against, nevertheless that stupefying improbable
event would still happen on a billion planets… I do not for a moment
believe the origin of life was anywhere near so improbable in practice…
Even accepting the most pessimistic estimate of the probability that
life might spontaneously originate, this statistical argument completely
demolishes any suggestion that we should postulate design…

Odds of “a billion to one against” can be expressed as odds of 1
in 109. In Climbing Mount Improbable Dawkins calculates:
“the probability that any particular sequence of, say 100, amino-acids
will spontaneously form is [roughly] 1 in 20100. This is
an inconceivably large number, far greater than the number of fundamental
particles in the entire universe
And yet here is Dawkins arguing that any suggestion that intelligent
design might be the best explanation for the origin, not of a single
chain of amino-acids at odds of 1 in 20100, but of life
capable of undergoing evolution
, is demolished by the “statistical
argument” that it only had to “spontaneously originate” on a single
planet out of “a billion-billion”! Dawkins vastly underestimates the
odds against the spontaneous generation of life. As Dean L. Overman
complains: “Many proponents of the origin of life by chance do not bother
to perform the mathematical calculations which render their conclusions
highly improbable.”
Stephen C. Meyer calculates that to generate a single functional
protein of 150 amino acids exceeds: “1 chance in 10180,”
and comments “it is extremely unlikely that a random search through
all the possible amino acid sequences could generate even a single relatively
short functional protein in the time available since the beginning of
the universe…”

We have come a long way in our understanding of life since Ernst
Haeckel described cells as “homogeneous globules of plasm”
in 1905. As Overman observes: “the difficulties in producing
a protein from the mythical prebiotic soup are very large, but more
difficult still is the probability of random processes producing the
simplest living cell which represents an overwhelming increase in complexity”.
David Swift comments:

Biologists have become increasingly aware that
the real stumbling block to the origin of life is its complexity – complexity
in terms of the interdependence of molecules and biochemical pathways
within cell metabolism, and complexity at the molecular level of individual
components. The combination of complexities at these different levels
presents insurmountable difficulties to getting anything that is remotely
life-like… the complexity of even the simplest forms of life, a bacterium
is much closer to a human being than it is to any cocktail of organic
compounds in some putative primeval soup… the core of the problem
is the considerable complexity of even the “simplest” forms of life,
or even of some notional system that is stripped down to the theoretical
bare necessities of life.

Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross report that: “Theoretical and experimental
studies designed to discover the bare minimum number of gene products
necessary for life all show significant agreement. Life seems to require
between 250 and 350 different proteins to carry out its most basic operations.”
The simplest existing self-reproducing organism known outside
the laboratory is the bacterium Mycoplasma Genitalium, which
has 482 genes (two thirds of which have been shown to be necessary to
its survival in the laboratory). Outside of the laboratory Mycoplasma
is “unable to sustain itself without parasitizing on
an even more complex organism… Therefore a hypothetical first cell
that could sustain itself would have to be even more complex.”
Rana and Ross argue:

the minimum complexity for independent life must
reside somewhere between about 500 and 1,500 gene products. So far,
as scientists have continued their sequencing efforts, all microbial
genomes that fall below 1,500 belong to parasites. Organisms capable
of permanent independent existence require more gene products. A minimum
genome size (for independent life) of 1,500 to 1,900 gene products comports
with what geochemical and fossil evidence reveals about the complexity
of Earth’s first life. Earliest life forms displayed metabolic complexity
that included photosynthetic and chemoautotrophic processes, protein
synthesis, the capacity to produce amino acids, nucleotides, fatty acids
and sugars [as well as] the machinery to reproduce. Some 1,500 different
gene products would seem the bare minimum to sustain this level of metabolic
activity… neither enough matter nor enough time in the universe exist
for even the simplest bacterium to emerge by undirected chemical and
physical processes.

Paul Davies writes that the odds against producing just the proteins
necessary for a minimally complex life-form by pure chance are “something
like 1040,000 to one.”
No wonder Benjamin Wiker concludes: “there are insuperable problems
in trying to explain, via some mode of design-free evolutionary theory,
how the first cells could have arisen”.
As Swift concludes:

it is no longer tenable to hide behind millions
or even billions of years – trying to argue that even the improbable
becomes probable given time – nor even behind the argument that life
did not have to evolve on earth but could have arisen on any one of
an astronomical number of possible planets. The conclusion is plain
and simple: the universe is not big enough or old enough, not by a factor
of trillions of trillions… for the complexities of life to have arisen
by random associations of simple organic molecules or of random mutations
of proteins or nucleic acids.

Appealing to the existence of a billion billion life friendly planets
(and they have to be life friendly planets) doesn’t rescue
the theory of spontaneous origination when the odds against the formation
of a single functional protein are 10180 to one. In point
of fact, Dawkins’ appeal to the existence of a billion billion life
friendly planets is made in the teeth of the evidence, because as astronomer
Danny R. Faulkner writes: “it is unlikely that there are many, if any,
other earth-like planets in the universe”
able to sustain life. Benjamin Wiker reviews some of the finely
tuned conditions that permit life on earth:

Our sun is not a typical star but is one of the
9 percent most massive stars in our galaxy, and is also very stable.
Further, the sun hits the Goldilocks mean for life – neither too hot
(like a blue or white star) nor too cold (like a red star) – and its
peak emission is right at the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum
– the very, very thin band where not only vision is possible but also
photosynthesis. Earth just “happens” to have the right combination of
atmospheric gases to block out almost all the harmful radiation on the
electromagnetic spectrum but, strangely enough, opens like a window
for visible light. Jupiter is deftly placed and sized so that it not
only helps to balance the Earth’s orbit but also acts as a kind of debris
magnet keeping Earth from being pummeled. Our moon is just the right
size and distance to stabilize earth’s axial tilt so that we have seasonal
variations but not wildly swinging temperature changes.

Hugh Ross reviews 200 parameters required for a life-bearing planet.
Comparing the chances of a planet falling within these parameters by
chance alone with our best estimate of the total number of planets in
the universe (1022) he estimates that there is “less than
1 chance in 10215” of a habitable planet existing in the
Elsewhere, Ross argues:

fewer than a trillionth of a trillionth of a percent
of all stars will have a planet capable of sustaining advanced life.
Considering that the observable universe contains less than a trillion
galaxies, each averaging a hundred billion stars, we can see that not
even one planet would be expected, by natural processes alone, to possess
the necessary conditions to sustain life.

Offering an updated Drake equation for calculating the number of
intelligent civilizations in our Galaxy, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez
and philosopher Jay W. Richards conclude: “the probability that the
Milky Way Galaxy contains even one advanced civilization is likely to
be much less than one. This is an interesting result, of course, since
we exist.”
Naturalistic astrobiologists Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee
concede that: “If some god-like being could be given the opportunity
to plan a sequence of events with the express goal of duplicating our
“Garden of Eden”, that power would face a formidable task. With the
best intentions, but limited by natural laws and materials,
it is unlikely that Earth could ever be truly replicated.”
The fine-tuning of the non-cosmic preconditions of life both
negate Dawkins’ hand-waving evocation of increased planetary probabilistic
resources in the (forlorn) hope of avoiding the conclusion that life
exhibits specified complexity, and to constitute an example of specified
complexity in its own right.

The Anthropic Principle: Cosmic Version

Dawkins correctly notes: “Physicists have calculated that, if the
laws and constants of physics had been even slightly different, the
universe would have developed in such a way that life would have been
However, Dawkins attempts to use the anthropic principle as
an explanation for this observation when it is in fact a restatement
of the observation: “We live not only on a friendly planet but also
in a friendly universe. It follows from the fact of our existence that
the laws of physics must be friendly enough to allow life to arise.”
It follows from the observation that we exist that the laws
of physics are compatible with our existence, but unfortunately for
Dawkins it does not follow from the observation of our existence
that the laws of physics are necessarily compatible with our
existence. Dawkins’ anthropic “explanation” flounders by equivocating
over the meaning of the term “must”; and by treating the data to be
explained as an explanation of the data to be explained, as the following
quotation makes painfully clear:

The anthropic answer, in its most general form,
it that we could only be discussing the question in the kind of universe
that was capable of producing us. Our existence therefore determines
that the fundamental constants of physics had to be in their respective
Goldilocks zones.

Dawkins once again gives the lie to his false claim that the anthropic
principle is itself an “explanation” by referencing John Leslie’s analogy
of the man sentenced to death by firing squad who survives to muse that
“Well, obviously they all missed, or I wouldn’t be here thinking about
As Dawkins says: “he could still, forgivably, wonder why they’d
all missed, and toy with the hypothesis that they were bribed…”
In other words, the anthropic observation of the man’s existence
post firing squad, depending as it does upon an unlikely set of preconditions
(all the firing squad missing), does nothing to explain his
existence, exclude the hypothesis of intelligent design, or guarantee
the truth of a non-design explanation. As Guillermo Gonzalez points

The [anthropic principle] has been acknowledged
for about a quarter of a century, but it was not until John Barrow and
Frank Tipler published their massive technical work The Anthropic
Cosmological Principle
in 1986 that it was widely discussed.
The Weak Anthropic Principle (WAP) is the most basic version–the
simple recognition that the parameters we observe in our environment
must not be incompatible with our existence. It is difficult to quarrel
with the simple physical interpretation of the WAP: it is just a type
of observer selection bias. We should not be surprised to observe, for
example, that we are living on a planet with an oxygen-rich atmosphere,
for the simple reason that we require oxygen to live. The WAP “explains”
why we should not observe ourselves to be living on, say, Titan, but
it fails to account for the origin of the oxygen in our atmosphere…
However, Barrow and Tipler, no doubt motivated by the philosophical
CP, have burdened the basic physical interpretation of the WAP with
unwarranted philosophical extrapolations. In considering the WAP with
regard to the observable universe, they claim that we ought not be surprised
at measuring a universe so finely tuned for life, for if it were different,
we would not observe it. But as Richard Swinburne first explained and
as William Lane Craig and John Leslie later argued, we should indeed
be surprised at observing features of the universe that are highly improbable
and are necessary for our existence….

Swinburne famously used the example of a card-shuffling machine to
advance the design argument from cosmic fine-tuning:

Suppose that a madman kidnaps a victim and shuts
him in a room with a card-shuffling machine. The machine shuffles ten
decks of cards simultaneously and then draws a card from each deck and
exhibits simultaneously the ten cards. The kidnapper tells the victim
that he will shortly set the machine to work and it will exhibit its
first draw, but that unless the draw consists of an ace of hearts from
each deck, the machine will simultaneously set off an explosion which
will kill the victim, in consequence of which he will not see which
cards the machine drew. The machine is then set to work, and to the
amazement and relief of the victim the machine exhibits an ace of hearts
drawn from each deck. The victim thinks that this extraordinary fact
needs an explanation in terms of the machine having been rigged in some
way. But the kidnapper, who now reappears, casts doubt on this suggestion.
“It is hardly surprising”, he says, “that the machine draws only aces
of hearts. You could not possibly see anything else. For you
would not be here to see anything at all, if any other cards had been
drawn.” But of course the victim is right and the kidnapper is wrong.
There is indeed something extraordinary in need of explanation in ten
aces of hearts being drawn. The fact that this peculiar order is a necessary
condition of the draw being perceived at all makes what is perceived
no less extraordinary and in need of explanation. The teleologist’s
starting-point is not that we perceive order rather than disorder, but
that order rather than disorder is there. Maybe only if order is there
can we know what is there, but that makes what is there no less extraordinary
and in need of explanation.

Swinburne’s example shows that the fact that an event is a pre-condition
of its being observed does not explain the occurrence of the event,
or negate the obvious fact that “the victim is right and the kidnapper
is wrong” about intelligent design being the best explanation for the
event described (which Swinburne offers as being a parallel to the fine-tuning
of the cosmos). It is clear that Swinburne’s card-shuffling machine
example presents us with an instance of specified complexity. The kidnap
victim is right, not merely because an “extraordinary” (i.e. unlikely)
event happened (the ace of hearts being drawn from each deck) but because
this complex event is also specified (only this “peculiar” event that
will prevent the machine from exploding).

Jimmy H. Davies and Harry L. Poe explain that: “The Weak Anthropic
Principle is a tautology; it states the obvious. If the universe was
not fit for life, then we would not be here.”
This tautology does absolutely nothing to explain the surprising
existence of specified complexity. While he seems to remain somewhat
confused on the issue, Dawkins clearly admits that the anthropic principle
does not provide answer the surprise of our existence:

The evolution of complex life, indeed its very
existence in a universe obeying physical laws, is wonderfully surprising
– or would be but for the fact that surprise is an emotion that can
exist only in a brain which is the product of that very surprising process.
There is an anthropic sense, then, in which our existence should not
be surprising. I’d like to think that I speak for my fellow humans in
insisting, nevertheless, that it is desperately surprising.

According to Dawkins: “This objection [to the no-design hypothesis]
can be answered by the suggestion… that there are many universes…”
Whether or not Dawkins is right about this (the “many worlds”
move commits the “inflationary fallacy” of multiplying probabilistic
resources without independent evidence), it is important to notice that
Dawkins accepts the point of the stories told by Swinburne and Leslie,
which is that the anthropic principle is not “an alternative
to the design hypothesis”
as Dawkins states, but is rather a description of the problem
to which the design hypothesis is one answer and the many world’s hypothesis
is another. As Gonzalez comments: “World Ensemble advocates are obviously
driven by the desire to avoid the “God-hypothesis,” and, in adopting
such extravagant and unnecessary assumptions, they are effectively conceding
that the WAP has been impotent in discrediting the teleological interpretation.”
It is the “many world’s” hypothesis that competes with the design
hypothesis to explain the observation of a “life friendly” universe,
planet, etc., not the anthropic principle itself. The reason
that “religious apologists love the anthropic principle” is clearly
not “some reason that makes no sense at all”, as Dawkins fatuously
opines, but the belief that the design hypothesis is a better explanation
of the anthropic principle than the many world’s hypothesis.

Dawkins’ “Unrebuttable Refutation” Rebutted

Dawkins champions what he considers “a very serious argument against
the existence of God, and one to which I have yet to hear a theologian
give a convincing answer despite numerous opportunities and invitations
to do so. Dan Dennett rightly describes it as “an unrebuttable refutation…””
Dawkins writes that this unrebuttable refutation of the God
hypothesis is “the central argument of my book”, the heart of which
runs as follows:

One of the greatest challenges to the [atheistic]
human intellect, over the centuries, has been to explain how the complex,
improbable appearance of design in the universe arises. The natural
temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to actual design
itself. In the case of a man-made artefact such as a watch, the designer
really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same
logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person. This temptation is
a false one, because the designer hypothesis immediately raises the
larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole problem we started
out with was the problem of explaining statistical improbability. It
is obviously no solution to postulate something even more improbable.
We need a “crane”, not a “skyhook”, for only a crane can do the business
of working gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise improbable
complexity. The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered
is Darwinian evolution by natural selection.

Design theorists will welcome Dawkins’ re-affirmation of the fact
that there exists an “improbable appearance of design in the universe”
and that the “natural” thing to do is to attribute this “appearance
of design” to actual design. As Jakob Wolf argues:

Biological entities appear to be designed.
It is very important to note that everybody agrees on the phenomenological
of the living organism. Disagreement sets in when it
comes to explaining the nature of what everybody observes. Is it possible
to account for the evolution of the complex organism by appeal to unintelligent
causes alone, or does an intelligent cause need to be invoked? The most
obvious conclusion to draw is that… an intelligent cause is needed.
This perception of the matter is the one that most readily imposes itself
upon us and has done for centuries. If you think otherwise, the burden
of proof rests squarely with you.

Behe agrees:

A crucial, often-overlooked point is that the
overwhelming appearance of design strongly affects the burden of proof:
in the presence of manifest design, the onus of proof is on the one
who denies the plain evidence of his eyes. For example, a person who
conjectured that the statues on Easter Island or the images on Mount
Rushmore were actually the result of unintelligent forces would bear
the substantial burden of proof the claim demanded. In those examples,
the positive evidence for design would be there for all to see in the
purposeful arrangement of parts to produce the images. Any putative
evidence for the claim that the images were actually the result of unintelligent
processes (perhaps erosion shaped by some vague, hypothesized chaotic
forces) would have to clearly show that the postulated unintelligent
process could indeed do the job. In the absence of such a clear demonstration,
any person would be rationally justified to prefer the design explanation.

Faced with the claim that the bacterial flagellum is irreducibly
complex (and therefore best explained in terms of design), Dawkins misrepresents
the ID argument and begs the question by deducing the existence
of an “easy”, indirect path up the back of Mount Improbable from his
assumption that there is no designer. Darwinian evolution by natural
selection may indeed be the “most ingenious and powerful crane so far
discovered”, but being the best available explanation compatible with
the assumption of naturalism does not guarantee being a plausible explanation
(let alone the best available explanation). Indeed, Dawkins’ poor handling
of the IC test demonstrates that we should remain sceptical of the claim
that evolution can “do the business” and receptive towards the hypothesis
of intelligent design.

Of course, Dawkins has what he considers an unrebuttable response
to this line of thought ready and waiting: “the designer hypothesis
immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer.
The whole problem we started out with was the problem of explaining
statistical improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate
something even more improbable.”
There may actually be two overlapping objections here: the “who
designed the designer” objection, and the “explaining something with
something more complex” objection. The “who designed the designer” objection
is a question that can be posed to all design inferences, but
as Jay Richards observes, no one would raise this question as an objection
to the design inference in any other field of explanation: “If someone
explains some buried earthenware as the result of artisans from the
second century BC, no one complains, “Yeah, but who made the artisans?””
Even supposing we can’t answer the “who designed the designer”
question, this does nothing to invalidate the inference that there was
a designer. Dawkins fundamentally misunderstands the nature of explanation.
William Lane Craig comments:

It is widely recognized that in order for an explanation
to be the best explanation, one needn’t have an explanation of the explanation
(indeed, such a requirement would generate an infinite regress, so that
everything becomes inexplicable)… believing that the design hypothesis
is the best explanation… doesn’t depend upon our ability to explain
the designer.

As William A. Dembski notes: “The who-designed-the-designer question
invites a regress that is readily declined… because such a regress
arises whenever scientists introduce a novel theoretical entity… the
question is whether design does useful conceptual work.”
Dawkins objects that: “A designer God cannot be used to explain
organized complexity because any God capable of designing anything would
have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in
his own right. God presents an infinite regress from which he cannot
help us to escape.”
In other words, the argument is that:

  1. Once you posit one designer to explain organized complexity
    you have to posit an infinite regress of designers (because any
    designer capable of designing anything would necessarily demand
    the same kind of explanation in its own right, and so on),
  2. but there cannot be an infinite regress of designers,
  3. therefore one cannot rationally posit a designer in the first

Being consistent, one must of course make exactly the same objection
to the design inference in every case, including the cases that
Dawkins himself admits are legitimate
(such as the design inference
from a sequence of prime numbers in a radio signal). The obvious legitimacy
of design inferences in some cases constitutes an ad absurdum
argument against the soundness of the above, logically valid argument.
Dawkins rejects the plausibility of explanations framed in terms of
an infinite regress, and objects to the design inference using a premise
that implies the necessity of just such an infinite regress of explanations
in all cases, despite the fact that he accepts the design inference
in some cases. He can’t have it both ways. Unless Dawkins is prepared
to eliminate design inferences altogether, he must reject the “who designed
the designer” objection as unsound. Since the argument is logically
valid, he can do this either by embracing explanations framed in terms
of an infinite regress, or by rejecting the premise that once you posit
one designer you have to posit an infinite regress of designers. Dawkins
actually rejects the first premise of the “who designed the designer”
objection (as do I), accepting the validity of design inferences where
the posited designer is an agent that he thinks he can maintain is a
wholly physical being that must (he deduces) have some sort
of an evolutionary explanation: “The crucial difference between gods
and god-like extraterrestrials lies not in their properties but in their
provenance. Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products
of an evolutionary process. No matter how god-like they may seem when
we encounter them, they didn’t start that way.”
Once again, Dawkins simply resorts to asserting his
naturalistic worldview, begging the question against his opponents.
As Woodward explains: “Dawkins… veers here into blatant circular argumentation.
He simply asserts – without any evidence-based argument or philosophical
proof – that no intelligence can ever exist who is a necessary (uncaused)

According to Dawkins: “God, or any intelligent, decision-making,
calculating agent, would have to be highly improbable in the very same
statistical sense as the entities he is supposed to explain.”
This is incorrect. Part of the crucial difference between a
God and god-like extraterrestrials is that the former’s provenance is
radically different because some of its properties are radically different
from those of the latter. For example, if God exists then God is a necessary
being and not a contingent being, whereas if an alien exists it is a
contingent being and not a necessary being.

Swinburne argues that, as “the greatest possible being”, God is
metaphysically simple in a way that finite entities are not.
With a finite entity one always has questions about why it has this
or that property and why it has this or that degree of this or that
property. Such questions do not arise with God, because, as a matter
of definition, God must have the maximum possible amount of every great
making property (goodness, power, knowledge, etc), including the great
making property of ontological security (being uncaused, independent
and necessarily existent). As J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig point
out that: “A mind’s ideas may be complex, but a mind itself is a remarkably
simple thing, being an immaterial entity not composed of pieces or separable
Unlike a watch, God is not a contingent physical object composed
of separable parts that are combined in a contingent order and which
can therefore be assigned a statistical probability of one possible
arrangement out of a certain finite number of possible arrangements.
Not only is God not a physical object, but God is not even a contingent
object; and it is a pre-requisite of the design inference that it begin
with a contingent object of study. As Dembski explains: “Because information
presupposes contingency, necessity is by definition incapable of producing
information, much less complex specified information…”

Precisely because it is unreasonable to posit explanations framed
in terms of an infinite regress, it is reasonable to hold that not all
designers can require a designer and therefore that not all designers
exhibit specified complexity. If the universe exhibits signs of design
(i.e. specified and/or irreducible complexity) that would otherwise
imply an infinite regress of designers, it is reasonable to hypothesise
the existence of a designer who does not exhibit such signs of design
and thus does not trigger a design inference. A necessarily existent
theistic deity is clearly a prime candidate for a designer who exhibits
no specified or irreducible complexity.

Conclusion: The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock

“The reviews have been mixed – it’s the luck of the draw whether
or not you get a religious person.” – Richard Dawkins

Like his reviews and his reviewers, Dawkins’ The God Delusion
is a mixed bag. Jim Holt’s assessment of The God Delusion is,
in my opinion, actually rather understated:

The book fairly crackles with brio. Yet reading
it can feel like watching a Michael Moore movie. There are lots of good,
hard-hitting stuff about the imbecilities of religious fanatics and
frauds of all stripes, but the tone is smug and the logic occasionally

As both an “educated” Christian and an ID theorist I find plenty
with which to take issue in The God Delusion (more than is
discussed here indeed); primarily because this rhetorical tour de
relies upon setting up and knocking down straw men. According
to P.Z. Myers: “The first half of The God Delusion delivers
a thorough overview of the logic of belief and disbelief. Dawkins reviews,
dismantles, and dismisses the major arguments for the existence of the
supernatural and deities.”
Myers is mistaken. Dawkins’ review of natural theology is anything
but “thorough” in either breadth or depth, and mainly consists of dismantling
straw men. As Holt points out, Dawkins:

dismisses the ontological argument as “infantile”
and “dialectical prestidigitation” without quite identifying the defect
in its logic. He seems unaware that this argument, though medieval in
origin, comes in sophisticated modern versions that are not at all easy
to refute. Shirking the intellectual hard work, Dawkins prefers to move
on… Dawkins’ failure to appreciate just how hard philosophical questions
about religion can be makes reading [The God Delusion] an intellectually
frustrating experience.”

Dawkins’ response to the argument from religious experience (which
he never actually spells out)
is merely to point out that experiences can be delusional: “the
brain’s simulation software… is well capable of constructing “visions”
and “visitations” of the utmost verdical power. To simulate a ghost
or an angel or a Virgin Mary would be child’s play to software of this
This single observation concludes Dawkins’ attempted rebuttal
of the argument from religious experience:

This is really all that needs to be said about
personal “experiences” of gods or other religious phenomena. If you’ve
had such an experience, you may well find yourself believing firmly
that it was real. But don’t expect the rest of us to take your word
for it, especially if we have the slightest familiarity with the brain
and its powerful workings.

Dawkins’ supposed rebuttal of the argument from religious experience
doesn’t even rise to the level of an argument, since it fails
to contain more than one premise. Merely observing that the brain can
create illusions provides no reason for the conclusion that all religious
experiences are illusiory. Indeed, without a premise that restricts
the illusion-giving power of the brain to religious experiences, Dawkins’
rebuttal counts equally against all experiences, including those which
lead him to believe that human beings have brains “capable of constructing
“visions” and “visitations” of the utmost verdical power.” Hence,
Dawkins’ rebuttal of the argument from religious experience is self-defeating.

In a quotation free discussion of the matter, Dawkins claims that
the famous five “ways” of Thomas Aquinas
“are easily – though I hesitate to say so, given his eminence
– exposed as vacuous.”
Dawkins really should have hesitated more and written less.
Noting Aquinas’ use of the principle that a causal regresses must terminate
somewhere (lest, per impossible, it becomes infinite), Dawkins
complains that Aquinas’ cosmological argument makes “the entirely unwarranted
assumption that God himself is immune to the regress.”
Dawkins fails to recognize that the cosmological argument
just is an argument for the necessity of postulating the existence
of a being that is “immune to the regress”!

After summarizing Aquinas’ fourth way (from degrees of perfection)
Dawkins attempts a reductio ad absurdum: “That’s an argument?
You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the
comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness.
Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we
call him God.”
Dawkins fails to notice that Aquinas” argument works with “great-making
properties”, a philosophically well defined class of properties into
which “smelliness” – the subject of Dawkins’ rebuttal – simply does
not fall. As Christopher F.J. Martin observes, although “the existence
of a more and a less does indeed require the existence of a de facto
, Aquinas is concerned with the existence of more and a less
in terms of properties that by definition admit of an intrinsic and
logical maximum, rather than a merely de facto maximum. E.L.
Mascall explains: “Goodness, so the argument claims, demands as its
cause a God who is good; while heat, though it necessarily demands a
God whose knowledge of possible being includes an idea of heat, does
not demand a God who is hot as its cause, but only a God who can create.”
Dawkins’ chapter on the roots of morality simply fails to engage
with the central question of whether or not objective moral values exist
and entail God’s existence.

Dawkins delivers a feast of fallacies in The God Delusion,
including: assertion making, wishful thinking, equivocation, data picking,
ridiculing anything he cannot understand (on the apparent assumption
that there must therefore be nothing to understand) and various
ad hominim
attacks, from name-calling (e.g. “dyed-in-the-wool faith-heads
are immune to argument”
) to “poisoning the well” (e.g. tendentiously talking about
“Phillip E. Johnson who leads the creationist charge against
Darwinism in America”
and “creationist Michael Behe”
). As we have seen, he also attempts to advance a tautology
as an explanation and contradicts himself on several occasions.

However, I find plenty with which to agree with in The God Delusion
(e.g. that religious faith should not be “blind” faith). Dawkins isn’t
wrong about everything. In particular, as a philosopher I welcome Dawkins’
recognition that ID theorists are building upon solid foundations:

  • Science is “the honest and systematic endeavour to find out
    the truth about the real world.”
  • Since the only good reason to believe in evolution is “because
    the evidence supports it,”
    we should “abandon it overnight if new evidence arose to
    disprove it.”
  • “The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is
    unequivocally a scientific question, even if it is not in practice
    – or not yet – a decided one… The methods we should use to settle
    the matter… would be purely and entirely scientific methods.”
  • Patterns exhibiting specified complexity are reliable indicators
    of intelligent design: “Metronomic rhythms can be generated by many
    non-intelligent phenomena… Nothing simply rhythmic, then, would
    announce our intelligent presence to the waiting universe… Prime
    numbers are often mentioned as the recipe of choice, since it is
    difficult to think of a purely physical process that could generate
  • Irreducible complexity provides a valid scientific test of Darwinism:
    “Maybe there is something out there in nature that really does preclude,
    by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth gradient of
    Mount Improbable… if genuinely irreducible complexity could be
    properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin’s theory. Darwin himself
    said as much… genuine irreducible complexity would wreck Darwin’s
    theory if it were ever found…

Dawkins thinks that no specified or irreducible complexity has, as
yet, been discovered in pre-history. ID theorists such as myself disagree
with this assessment of the evidence, but at least we are agreed that
the above theoretical foundations of ID are sound and that the crucial
question is whether or not the evidence justifies a design inference.
As we have seen, Dawkins’ arguments to the contrary are about as impressive
as the big bad wolf’s attempt to blow away the house of brick.

For references to this article, click here.