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Another Note on Design

Pocket watch, savonette-type.
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Since I hadn’t commented on the Intelligent Design controversy for some time, I want to add a couple of notes to what I said yesterday.

I absolutely believe in design. I believe everything is designed by God. I believe God is involved in everything. In teaching on this subject I have occasionally simply started dropping my pencil on the podium. Someone will surely ask me why I’m doing it. I then ask why the pencil always falls. The 20th or 21st century answer is, of course, gravity. Duh! “No,” I like to say, “The pencil falls because God wants it to.”

What do I mean by that? Do I not believe in gravity? Oh absolutely! Like everything else, I do so because I believe in God. God’s desire is expressed so consistently that we can write it as a law.

I followed the suggestion in one of the comments to the Science and the Sacred post I linked yesterday, and went and read the entire essay in PDF, thus avoiding the wait for the second half. I want to quote a couple of paragraphs.

The first is this:

The point is, different chance hypotheses give different results. Dembski writes, “…opposing chance to design requires that we be clear what chance processes could be operating to produce the event in question.”2 Dembski is very explicit about the necessity of the design inference eliminating all chance hypotheses. But this is a fatal flaw: except in very unusual cases, it is impossible to identify all possible chance hypotheses simply because finite human beings are unable to identify every chance scenario that might be operative. [link added]

This is what I meant in my fumbling, non-mathematician’s statement that I reject the design inference on the grounds of garbage-in garbage-out. We don’t know how the creation of life or certain biological structures occurs, and thus it is not possible to determine the probability of such events.

Again:

Also, suppose an intelligent agent designed a natural process that incorporated chance. Human beings do this frequently …

Even if we accept, as I do, that God is the creator, we don’t know the process, so how precisely to we identify God’s fingerprint? I would also suggest that the claim that God cannot design a process that includes chance is just as limiting to God as any of the many other limitations we try to put on him.

Dr. Bradley further argues that design is one of those points where theology can legitimately contribute to our knowledge of the world. It’s a great essay. I suggest reading it.

I would note another issue I have with intelligent design, which is simply that it is detecting instances of design in a universe that is, I believe, designed. Thus, in some sense it is detecting “more” design in some portions of the universe than in others. This is the problem I have with the design argument going back to Paley. The watch is designed, yes. But the sand is also designed in some sense. (Note that I’m aware the analogy is between the watch and living organisms, not sand. That is, in fact, my problem with it.)  One could almost infer that the design argument tests for the absence of God’s designing work in other places in the universe. Almost, but not quite. This is, of course, a theological argument on my part, but then I have always thought this argument should be theological and philosophical, rather than scientific.

Incidentally, it is my belief that God is involved at all points in the universe that makes theistic evolution a difficult thing for me. For many people it is simply a matter of saying that the Bible tells us God created but science tells us how God created–evolutionary processes. This said, we move on without examining our theological views based on the result. But the idea that the earth is old and that death occurred before before the fall seems to display a God who is quite willing to let sparrows, amongst many other things, fall. That is a challenging gulf to bridge. I cannot agree with many of my friends who say that evolution doesn’t really make much theological difference.

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